By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
The percentage of older adults using mobility devices – such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and motorized wheelchairs and scooters – is rising sharply, according to the latest U.S. survey.
A 2015 article in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society reports that about one-quarter of Americans over 65 use such devices, an increase of nearly 50% since 2004. The report found no difference between reported falls between device and non-device users, or the use of multiple devices or any one particular mobility device. It was based on interviews with 8,245 community-dwelling adults enrolled in a national database designed to examine elderly trends in disability.
Mobility aids are usually prescribed in order to compensate for age-related deficits in balance, coordination, and strength, to provide support for recovery (such as hip fracture recovery or surgery), and to protect against the risk of falls – the leading cause of death from injury in older adults. It is estimated that 35-40% of adults over 65 fall each year.
Many individuals use multiple devices, for instance, a cane inside the home, a walker outside the home, and perhaps a wheelchair for navigating long distances outside the home. Specific devices relate to personal needs and conditions. A significantly greater percentage (up to 30%) of women than men use mobility devices during various ages over 65, according to the report.
My Viewpoint: I have seen many patients using canes and walkers and, in more recent years, motorized wheelchairs. All of this is good if people can get around better, and if such usage is not associated with a greater incidence of falls.
What This Means to You: People using mobility devices need to use caution. Consult with a skilled physical therapist on the use of a device and follow up with the therapist to identify physical changes that may require additional devices or discontinuation of a particular device. Furthermore, the therapist can also advise a patient about physical activity. Elderly people, including those disabled to one degree or another, need some exercise. Even a minimum can reduce the progress of age-related muscular weakness and, according to research, promote mobility, vitality, and extend life.
Recommendation: Stay in touch with your physical therapist for advice on how to use your device safely and how to stay active.
- Gell NM, et al. Mobility Device Use in Older Adults and Incidence of Falls and Worry About Falling: Findings from the 2011–2012 National Health and Aging Trends Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2015;63(5): 853-859.
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