If you have a loved one who struggles to move around, you may have wondered what you can do to help. They may have gradually become less mobile, or they may have had a sudden change in their mobility after illness or an injury. Whatever the circumstances, reduced mobility can rob people of their confidence and independence. By offering support to a loved one with reduced mobility, you can enable them to make and exercise choices in their lives.
Whatever your loved one’s impairment, there are things you can do to help them move more freely and improve their quality of life. Regular movement, however that looks for them, can help to tackle both the root causes and knock-on effects of reduced mobility.
Reduced mobility is common in older adults, but it can come about at any age for a wide range of reasons. If your loved one has difficulty walking, balancing, or navigating everyday objects, they may have reduced mobility. The most common causes of reduced mobility are:
Older age is one of the most common risk factors for reduced mobility. As we get older, our bodies change and we start to slow down a bit. From the age of 55, we lose around 1% of our muscle mass every year. Becoming less mobile with age may be considered normal, but it doesn’t have to be inevitable.
Chronic health conditions
Chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis are also a common cause of reduced mobility. Strength and balance impairments can lead to mobility difficulties too. Pain and fear of falls can understandably put people off movement. Breathlessness, caused by lung conditions like COPD, can also be a barrier to movement.
Being less mobile can be deeply frustrating for the person with the mobility impairment, especially if they are used to being more active. Reduced mobility can also lower someone’s quality of life, particularly if it prevents them from doing the things that they enjoy. There can be knock on effects of reduced mobility on their health too, including:
Loss of appetite
Fluid build-up in the legs, feet and hands Pressure ulcers
Loss of muscle strength
Unhealthy weight gain
Low mood and anxiety
The benefits of encouraging mobility
Encouraging and enabling the person you care for to be more mobile can help to improve their health and quality of life. Even small changes can make a huge difference. The benefits include:
Increased muscle strength and bone density
Greater opportunities to socialise and get outside
Tips to help you promote mobility for an elderly loved one
You know how important mobility is, but how can you get your loved one moving around safely? If you have any concerns, or if your loved one’s GP isn’t aware of their reduced mobility, speak to them before you begin. They can check for underlying health issues and offer treatment if needed.
Tailoring the activities to their needs is key. Make sure you understand what it is your loved one wants to achieve, and what their starting point is. If they struggle with everyday activities, like getting in and out of a car, then choose exercises that are appropriate. Once you’ve checked it’s safe for your loved one to start increasing their movement, you’re ready to start. Here are some tips on how to improve mobility in elderly and disabled people:
1. Suggest that they stand up (or move) once every hour
Create an environment that encourages sustainable movement, rather than fitness.
A manageable way to achieve this is with movement ‘snacks’ – brief bursts of light movement, spread throughout the day. Motivate your loved one to stand up once an hour. Ask them to lightly move their arms and legs while they’re stood up. If they can’t stand, there are plenty of movements that they can do sitting down. For example, using a foot peddler for a few minutes each day is a simple way to improve circulation and muscle strength.
2. Help them to do gentle stretches
The benefits of regular stretching for elderly and disabled people include lower muscle pain and stiffness. Stretching also helps to improve circulation, balance and coordination. It may even reduce the risk of injury!
Encourage them to do a few minutes of stretching, two times a week. Remember that many of these stretches can be done sitting. Here are a few tips to get started:
The ability to stand without assistance from another person is key to greater independence and freedom. But everyday activities like getting in and out of bed or a chair can become increasingly difficult for people with reduced mobility. This can create a series of difficulties, from accessing a bathroom to preparing food.
Building strength and coordination is important, but adjustable furniture, such as riser recliner chairs, can help too. Simple settings on these chairs allow the user to lift and tilt the chair, helping them to their feet.
4. Include some enjoyable activities that help to build muscle
We lose muscle mass as we get older and during long periods of inactivity. This means it’s important to encourage the person you care for to do a few muscle-building exercises regularly.
If your loved one is sufficiently mobile, then moderate-intensity, low-impact activities are a great way to get active, without harming their joints. Yoga, for example, is just as effective as running in lowering the risk of heart disease. It’s a great way to strengthen muscles too. The NHS provides chair-based yoga and Pilates videos that you could use to get started.
If your loved one has a specific health condition, try searching online for charities that support people with that condition. The MS society, for example, has lots of online resources to help people with MS get more active.
For those with lower mobility, you can encourage them to try muscle strengthening activities that can be done at home, using a chair for support. For example, ask them to try calf raises, while holding the back of a chair for balance.
5. Remember that mobility aids enable independence
We have a tendency to view mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, as restrictive. But in reality, mobility aids give people back the ability to get around, access work, a social life and the outdoors.
If your loved one is struggling to get around inside the home, there are plenty of aids that you can encourage them to try. Installing grab rails and placing non-slip matting under rugs can be particularly useful in helping to prevent falls for someone who is unsteady on their feet. Beds and other furniture can have handrails installed too, which can help your loved one feel secure when getting in and out of bed.
6. Set realistic goals
Expecting someone to leap back on their feet after surgery or a fall can be counterproductive. Focus on small steps that everyone feels happy with, and that are manageable enough to commit to for more than one day. Try to remove unnecessary barriers, like exercise clothes or complicated fitness routines. Keep things simple and integrate them into everyday activities. Remember, any movement is vastly better than none.
Remembering to take care of yourself too
Caring for a friend or family member can be hard work, both physically and emotionally. Remember that it’s important to take care of yourself too. Talk to someone if you are struggling or worried about your caring responsibilities. Carers UK, Scope and Age UK are all great places to turn to.
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It could make all the difference to helping improve their mobility.