Mobility is often considered to be a general indicator of healthy aging in older adults, but new research brings this correlation into even sharper focus.
On Wednesday of last week, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a clinical review that points to mobility limitations as a litmus test for healthy aging. The review, conducted by geriatricians at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is based on the analysis of studies published between 1985 and 2012 pertaining to mobility issues and aging adults.
In the university news release, co-author Dr. Cynthia Brown of the UAB Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care provides a summary of the findings:
“The review confirmed that increased physical activity and exercise are extremely important for healthy aging,” says Brown. “We’ve also identified mobility-limiting risk factors and created an approach to help medical professionals screen for and treat those risk factors.”
Brown notes that decreased mobility is a common sign of forthcoming functional decline in aging adults. Based on the findings that impaired mobility is a risk factor, the study outlines a method for health care professionals to effectively screen for and treat mobility limitations.
Two Questions that May Predict Impending Decline
To accurately gauge mobility in patients, Brown suggests that primary care doctors pose two specific questions to their elderly patients:
- For health or physical reasons, do you have difficulty climbing up 10 steps or walking a quarter of a mile?
- Because of underlying health or physical reasons, have you modified the way you climb 10 steps or walk a quarter of a mile?
“Any modification of a task such as climbing 10 steps raises a red flag,” Brown said. “Asking the right questions can tell a clinician a great deal about the level of mobility in their older patients.”
Brown says that if either question is answered with a “yes,” the primary care provider should follow through with questions to determine the specific causes of these limitations. Depending on the response, the care provider should then take steps to address the problems – whether it’s recommending ambulatory devices, physical therapy or dietary changes.
“Mobility limitations are the edge of that slippery slope that leads to loss of function,” says Brown. “A decline in mobility seems to quickly lead to an across-the-board decline, including the routine activities of daily living. Mobility is a sort of barometer for how well an older person ages.”