"Maintaining your mobility—the ability to move easily around your home and neighborhood, stay connected to your loved ones, and remain engaged in the world—can safeguard your independence." —Dr. Scott Martin, associate professor of orthopedics at Harvard Medical School and medical editor of the Special Health Report Mobility and Independence
As people age, it isn’t uncommon for them to report limitations in their mobility. For example, about a third to a half of people who are at least 65 years old say they have some difficulties when walking or climbing stairs.
Fortunately, many assistive devices can help you remain mobile. These are typically simple tools that can help as you recover from injuries or surgeries or as you deal with balance issues and arthritis, among other conditions. Sometimes these are temporary aids; other times, they will be integrated into your daily life.
1. Walking Poles or Walking Sticks
These add stability when you walk and can be used to improve balance, posture and overall coordination. They can be an excellent choice for people who need to relieve weight on hips or knees, perhaps because of arthritis. People also use them when hiking, even when they don’t have mobility issues of significance, and they can help people with neuropathy.
There are three main varieties of canes, including the more typical ones with curved or T-shaped handles. These help with balance. If you need to put more weight on the cane or if you don’t have a strong grip, talk to your doctor about an offset cane, with a flat handle grip. There are also canes with multiple legs, excellent for when you need more support. Walking speed is slowed down with these, but they stand up on their own when not in use, which means you don’t need to bend down to pick yours up.
Crutches provide more support than canes but are more challenging to learn how to use. They must be fitted specifically for you and it’s important to get instructions on how to use them on different surfaces.
Walkers are a good mobility device if you need significant support. Because a walker alters your gait considerably, consult with your doctor on how to choose one and how to learn to use it.
A 2014 study indicated moderate physical activity, participated in daily, “may mean the difference between seniors being able to keep up everyday activities or becoming housebound.” More specifically, adults who participated in moderate activity showed an 18 percent higher rate of mobility — especially impressive since this study looked at “frail” older adults. Moderate activity also helped prevent people from losing mobility.
Then, in 2016, Yale News reported a new study on mobility and independence that indicates how, by “adopting a walking routine and other moderate physical activities, older adults can recover from a major disability more quickly, and maintain their independence over time.”
This study was the longest and largest physical activity study for older adults to date. Participants were “less likely to experience disability in the first place, more likely to recover if they did suffer a disability, and less likely to have a subsequent episode,” according to researchers.