As we age, our Mobility takes on increasing importance. No one wants their mobility compromised, much less see it disappear altogether. One of the most upsetting issues affecting seniors and usually one of the first things to disappear is one’s driver’s license. Governments have taken notice that seniors are now the demographic most involved in vehicular accidents as well as the age group most likely to die as a result of one.
Over the objection of seniors, testing is becoming mandatory in an effort to protect the public as well as the life of the senior driver. Barring an actual accident, it is usually a concerned family member speaking to the family doctor which will result in that physician either registering his recommendation for denial of a license or advocating that a license holder be tested. Such actions are usually based on cognitive concerns. Once a decision is made, it is usually binding and most people who fail to qualify to drive will resign themselves to losing their license. However, losing the option of just hopping into one’s vehicle and heading out can be crushing because dependency is not something many of us look forward to without a keen sense of apprehension.
Other Mobility issues for seniors can begin with difficulty walking, ascending or descending stairs, standing from a sitting position, or getting into or out of bed. Mobile aids may become a necessity when pain, weakness and balance become issues. Denial that we require certain aids can be dangerous because falling is something seniors want to avoid; broken hips, broken legs or broken ribs can create numerous other complications which are entirely preventable.
Alzheimers & Dementia present Mobility Issues for Seniors
Alzheimers and Dementia present their own mobility issues: falling being just one of the unfortunate side effects of either condition. People with dementia are 8 X more likely to fall and 3X more likely to break a hip as a result of falling than would a senior without a diagnosis of dementia.
Mobility products for seniors were created to enable seniors to retain some measure of independence and these aids include walking canes, walkers with resting seats, wheel chairs (manually operated or battery powered) as well as the popular scooter which can almost replace an automobile in terms of its range and functionality: shopping for groceries, taking a ride along a nature trail or getting out into the fresh air to attend local events. Stairlifts are becoming increasingly popular as seniors opt to remain in their homes where stairs present special hazards. You can sit and ride up or down eliminating the hazard of tripping and falling.
Dealing with Resistance and Ambivalence
There appears to be stigma attached to requiring mobile aids and some seniors deny the need for them to their detriment. A serious fall could render them bedbound, making mere stigma pale by comparison. Mobility aids are seen by many to be associateed with aging and physical decline rather than as enhancements to independence and autonomy. Negative biases prevail with people not wanting to be seen as crippled or deteriorating or someone whose life’s options are disappearing. Some seniors do not want to be seen as dependent on aids, similiar to one’s denial that you don’t need glasses until you find yourself lost one day and unable read the roadmap or the GPS.
The interesting thing about mobility aids is that although there is stigma associated with first time use, acceptance or reliance increases with usage and subsequent graduation to other aids. Promoting mobile aids as enhancements to independence and autonomy assists their acceptance. Equally noteworthy is that seniors are less resistant when their aids have a sporty appearance and something they can use almost as a fashion accessory; power wheelchairs in addition to being easier to use are more attractive than the manually operated chair. And scooters are another step up in looking sporty. Who hasn’t witnessed a fully decked out scooter with country flags flying from it, making its way to the nearest grocery store, its driver looking upbeat and enjoying every moment of the mobility and accessibility provided by this mode of transportation.
Although ambivalence and stigmatization accompanies the need for mobile aids, doctors are among the first professionals to consult and influence one’s attitude in aquiring some help in getting around. They might stress the need for keeping a senior safe and more importantly, independent, something we all wish to maintain as long as possible.
Cost of Mobile Aids
Government assistance may be available in the provision of Mobile Aids provided the client has limited means to pay. In Canada, Veterans Affairs may supply mobile aids to veterans at no charge. It does not necessarily fall to the person needing the aid to have to pay for it partially or fully. Seniors need to check their local government webpages under Health to determine if they qualify for any type of subsidy to assist with the purchase of a mobile aid.
Lastly, Exercise can reduce the need for Mobility Aids
Never underestimate the benefits of exercise because as the saying goes: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Seniors who commit themselves to remaining active are at an advantage when it comes to issues of balance and mobility.
Swimming and the buoyancy it provides gives the body with an excellent workout without stressing the joints. Using an elliptical machine also enables cardio without taxing the joints.
Walking is an non stressful weight bearing exercise which can help ward off osteoporosis in addition to clearing the mind. And yoga, in addition to reducing anxiety, enhances flexibility and range of motion. Low impact yoga provides the benefit of movement without the strain as well as preventing and slowing bone loss. Some studies even conclude yoga actually assists the body in gaining bone.
Last but not least, resistance training done properly has proven benefits in increasing strength and weight management in that it raises the metabolism and builds muscle. When you build muscle you burn more calories. Strength training is also credited with glucose control for diabetes as well as reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Active engagement in all these exercises can render seniors healthier and should delay reliance on mobile assistive devices.
The Benefits of Mobility Aids for Seniors
The bottom line is that mobile aids are geared to enable seniors to age in place – at home vs moving into a care
facility. The autonomy provided in using assistive devices far outweighs their perceived stigma. Who wouldn’t want to live at home as long as possible? Mobile aids assist us to move more – and moving more is an investment in our very own independence.