Causes of immobility and possible solutions
The human body, regardless of age, is designed for movement, but without an active lifestyle, our bodies and minds will deteriorate. An older person will possibly spend lengthy periods sitting down in their favourite chair or in bed, but this inactivity brings with it many potential health risks So what can you do as a family member or carer to reduce the long term effects of increased immobility in older people?
What are the health risks of inactivity and immobility?
Cardiovascular: The heart, like any muscle in our body, will decrease in size without regular activity, resulting in it not pumping the blood as well as it once did. This can lead to problems with blood pressure and even heart attacks. Circulation issues occur as the use of our muscles decrease. Muscles contracting help blood circulate round our bodies and lack of muscle use will slow down circulation, which can cause blood clots. Reduced blood circulation may also lead to fluid type swelling ‘Edema’ in the lower legs or back during long periods of immobility.
Respiratory: Even after small periods of immobility, the effects on the lungs can be quite severe. The chest muscles become weakened resulting is less lung expansion and shallow breathing. The major risk here is pneumonia, as the ability to cough is weakened and secretions can build up in the lungs.
Musculoskeletal: Without stating the obvious, our muscles and bones become stronger when being used regularly. Even small periods of inactivity will result in muscle loss and decrease in bone density. This increases the risk of osteoporosis. Muscle weakness also directly affects our natural balance resulting in an increase in falls.
Neurological: Increased risk of falls in the elderly are caused when lack of mobility affects the nervous system, resulting in lack of coordination and balance. In addition, longer periods of immobility can result in a number of psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, anger and confusion. The elderly can often suffer from what’s known as ‘learned dependency syndrome’, when they constantly seek help for even the most trivial of tasks. Encouraging social interaction and as much self-dependence as possible is key to helping with these issues.
Gastrointestinal: A common effect of immobility is constipation. As our gastrointestinal system slows down, this allows more water to be removed from the fecal mass.
Metabolic: Immobility also results in fewer calories being burned and poor appetite. Careful attention should be paid to dehydration and malnutrition and weight loss. Any level of dramatic weight loss should of course be investigated further by a GP.
Urinary: Physical activity and gravity help to drain urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Inactivity and immobility can cause a build-up in urine in the kidneys. This increases the risk of kidney stones and urinary tract infection.
Skin: Immobility can also lead to sores. Skin becomes easily damaged in pressure areas, such as hips, heel and sacrum. Providing orthopaedic medical cushions can help.
Helping older people to keep mobile
Our elderly parents or relatives may be reluctant to exercise, but it is imperative that they do whatever they can, whenever they can.
Research exercise activities that can be done while in the sitting position. There are many living aids out there that help with these conditions but try and encourage limited exercise to begin with and where possible encourage them to continue with daily activities and routines as much as physically possible. There are products available, such as Happy Legs, which is endorsed by cardiologists and vascular Surgeons, effectively exercising the legs whilst remaining seated. It enables a passive exercise using the same principles as walking, helping improve your blood circulation. A small stroll every other day when they are able is the best. Accompany them on a walk out, even if it is for just 15 or 20 minutes. If walking even a short time is an issue, consider a walking aid for your relative to make it easier.
Not only is it important to keep the body active, but it is imperative that the mind is kept active too. Try to understand your parent or relatives frustrations and anger at not being as mobile or self-dependent as they once were.
- Ask friends to pop in now and then, as you do, to make sure social interaction and stimulation continue as frequently as possible.
- Look at photographs, play games or do jigsaw puzzles with them.
- Encourage interest in a topic or hobby that maybe your parent has previously shown interest in but failed to pursue. Perhaps you could help with research during your time together
- Load a tablet with some stimulating mind games and e-books that you can show your elderly parent to use.
Nutrition can also be very effective in helping mobility in terms of energy, digestion and alleviating constipation. Ask your parents GP to provide access to the health centre dietician. Work with them to make a weekly/monthly diet and nutrition plan
Being a carer to an elderly parent or relative can be a very daunting, lonely experience. Don’t neglect your own health and well-being and make sure you have a support network around you to help not only with care but with your anxieties and stresses. Keep mobile yourself, as it’s essential to your mental and physical well-being, even if you just have a short walk.
Paul Render is the Managing Director of Cavendish Furniture and mobility.
Cavendish is a preferred partner of myageingparent.com for mobility products, daily living aids and furniture for the elderly and infirm. For more information on the fantastic range of mobility products they have one offer, click HERE