By Joe Fleming, Co-Founder and President of Vive Health
For many senior citizens, feelings of anxiety are often wrapped up in the same feelings around losing their mobility. While some immobility risk factors accompany the natural process of aging (i.e. bone loss, nerve damage, and muscle weakness in the legs and feet), it doesn’t make accepting it any easier.
Restlessness, agitation, frustration, trouble sleeping, fatigue, trouble concentrating, even outbursts can be real-life manifestations of strong feelings of anxiety and fear in seniors, with the body simply trying to express extreme concern over mobility limitations. Concerns including:
Loss of Independence
One of the biggest reasons seniors move to senior living communities or assisted living is because they are no longer able to navigate their own home environment, especially when stairs are involved. Losing the ability to live alone and care for oneself, as well as the ability to drive or offer others help like they once did can leave seniors feeling trapped, dependent on others, and anxious.
Reduced Sense of Confidence
Going from driving yourself around and walking with no problems to having to use a mobility aid and losing your driving privileges is a huge blow to the self-confidence of anyone, much less an older adult who has been taking care of themselves for decades. Diminished self-reliance can feed into anxious emotions that permeate into other facets of life including relationships, hygiene, and activity levels.
When getting around with ease becomes more and more challenging, seniors will find themselves being less active, joining social functions less, and generally leaving their homes more infrequently. Not only does this put seniors at risk for anxiety and depression, but it’s been shown that social interaction is key to preventing cognitive decline and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s down the line.
Difficulty standing and walking most immediately translates into decreases in physical fitness and routine exercise. This is potentially the most dangerous for seniors as regular exercise has been shown to help stave off everything from heart disease to cancer, diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer’s. Losing the welcomed social interactions and regular endorphin (feel good hormone) releases physical activity brings as well can fuel stress, anxiety, and depression.
Fear of Falling
A gripping panic when you feel like you’re about to fall is no stranger to older adults, and with good reason. Nearly 1 in 4 adults over 65 experiences a fall and for many that lead to painful bruising and lacerations, hip fractures, hospitalization, and even death. Mobility issues can increase the risk of falling because reaction times may be slower and agility and coordination skills less sharp. Anxiety around falling is most common for seniors who have experienced a fall before.
How Can Support Networks Help
Support networks for seniors, be they family members, caregivers, faith communities, and so on, can help seniors with mobility issues escape the all too common trap of anxiety, fear, and depression with simple yet thoughtful ideas like:
Introducing them to technology – if mobility problems make it hard for the senior in your life to travel, introduce them to Skype so they can live video chat instead and still stay connected with friends and family near and far. Get them a Facebook or Instagram account as well so they can see pictures, videos, and updates from family and friends as well as messaging and virtually interacting with them.
Coordinate transportation – mobility difficulties often make simple errands like going to the pharmacy or grocery store much more time-consuming and difficult. Instead of offering to swing by for them, coordinate a transportation schedule for your loved one to get a ride to those places. This can get them out of the house, boost their independence, and feed into real-life social interaction.
Find the right mobility aid – too often mobility aids, like canes and walkers, are viewed as negative symbols of old age instead of empowering devices to help seniors stay mobile and active. Finding the right mobility aid requires the help of your loved one’s doctor, but they may be able to suggest upgraded styles and designs like a quad cane, knee scooter, or ergonomic walking cane tips. Even the slightest enhancements to your loved one’s ability to maneuver around their own environment can help them feel more independent and confident.
Chair exercise – ever heard of chair yoga or senior Pilates? There are loads of fun and engaging exercise activities that are tailored for an older audience with potential mobility issues. More and more gyms and boutique studios are starting to offer classes with modified movements and poses meant for an older generation or those who need to sit while exercising. Check with your local YMCA, yoga studio, or senior center to see what might be available to your love done.
Fall prevention – for seniors aging in place (staying in their own homes), modifying the environment to reduce the risk of falling is important to tackle the fear and anxiety associated with it. Removing clutter and trip hazards, installing helpful railings and grab bars, and even getting raised toilet seats and shower chairs for the bathroom can go a long way in helping.
It’s critical for support networks and caregivers to recognize the signs of anxiety in seniors that might be brought on by mobility problems (and connected risk factors like hearing and vision problems). Seeking help and proactively addressing concerns over activity levels and anxiety can help set seniors up for success in their Golden Years.