How Seniors Stay Mobile

Mobility devices like canes and wheelchairs used more commonly than before by older patients


Mobility devices like canes and wheelchairs can keep seniors moving, which can help them stay healthy. And the use of these devices by older patients may be on the rise.

According to a recent study, the use of canes, walkers, wheelchairs and other mobility devices may be on the rise in older patients.

The authors of this study surveyed older adults and found that one-quarter of them used a cane or other device — a jump up from past surveys. Many of those surveyed used multiple devices.

“Staying active is a key component to staying healthy and maintaining mobility and function,” said lead study author Nancy M. Gell, PhD, of the University of Vermont in Burlington. “It's important for people to use the device that best matches their needs in order to stay as mobile as possible, but safely."

Seth Kress, PT, a Loyola University Medical Center physical therapist, told dailyRx News that patients should speak with a physical therapist to find the mobility device that best suits them.

"The patient wants to look at what is the device that allows them to be stable, but allows for the greatest level of independence and mobility," Kress said. "For example, a walker is more stable than a cane, but is more bulky and heavier to move and carrying up/down stairs and in and out of the car. One of the roles of the physical therapist is to work with the patient to assess what is the device that allows them to function safely, but is the least restrictive to their independence."

Adults age 65 and older commonly use canes, walkers and wheelchairs. These devices help prevent falls and ensure stability while walking and performing daily tasks.

For this study, Dr. Gell and team surveyed 7,609 older adults on Medicare, a federal insurance program for older adults. These researchers asked the older adults about their use of mobility devices and whether they had recently fallen.

Twenty-four percent of the adults surveyed said they used a mobility device, and 9 percent reported using multiple devices in the past month.

Using such a device did not appear to lead to a higher rate of falls, Dr. Gell and team noted. However, adults who use canes may limit their own mobility out of fear of falling. These researchers also noted that mobility device use had increased by nearly 50 percent since 2004.

"Some signs that a physical therapist looks for that indicate that a person might need the aid of a mobility device are: instability when the patient is moving outside of their base of support and difficulty recovering balance once they are out of their base, asymmetrical [walking] patterns, and signs that they are feeling unstable, i.e. reaching for objects, using a wider than normal base to feel more stable, holding onto someone when [walking], etc.," Kress said.

Dr. Gell and team called for further research on addressing mobility challenges and preventing falls in older patients.

This study was published May 6 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The National Institute on Aging funded this research. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.