Ask Away Blog: Keeping Seniors Mobile

Keeping Seniors Mobile

Monday, June 22, 2020

The ability to get around as we get older can be a challenge. Loss of mobility is the top disability among seniors according to census data. Eventually, it seems, even the healthiest of elders become bed or chair bound. A rapidly-aging populous is part of why it’s commonplace to see an advertisement for a free mobility scooter on television every hour. These are the best answer for many who are struggling with getting around. There are some available measures to help extend the duration of unaided mobility before having to rely on something other than walking for short-distance travel.


Human ambulation, the act of walking, is a remarkable combination of mechanics and coordination. This activity relies on several different anatomical functions and features. A failure or impediment among any of them can interfere and immediately bring any walk to an abrupt halt. Systems of the body used for walking include the muscular, skeletal and central nervous systems.

Muscular Function

Other than the many leg muscles involved, taking just a few strides engages abdominal and even upper body muscles in the arms and back. The main lower body muscles used in walking include the quadriceps and hamstring muscles (thighs), gluteal muscles (buttock) and gastrocnemius and soleus muscles (calves). Each stride of a walk involves the coordinated contraction and relaxation of these to provide thrust and repositioning of feet and legs. In the human foot alone, there are more than 20 muscles that control the movement of toes and contribute to balance.

Skeletal Function

The skeleton’s structural framework, with dozens of movable joints, support all those muscles. Connections between muscles and bones are provided by tendons and ligaments. Each human leg from the pelvis downward contains over 50 bones that together form a scaffold of sorts that accommodates positioning and a flexible but rigid structure. The act of walking engages these bones in a coordinated series of positions that progressively reposition the mass of the entire body. The aging process can include a variety of bone-related problems that impede walking such as arthritis or hairline fractures.

Central Nervous System Function

The brain provides the coordination required in walking by constantly monitoring input from the senses, performing rapid calculations and issuing hundreds of commands. The pathways along which nerve impulses travel permeate the entire body. This two-way communication relies on the brain’s ability to process messages being received from eyesight, hearing, touch and balance from the inner ear. Concurrently, nerve signals that cause muscles to contract and relax must adhere to fairly precise timing that enables walking. Many different nervous system-related processes are affected by aging. Declines in the nervous system function may come in the form of dementia-related disorders or in some cases damaged nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord (peripheral neuropathy). Neuropathy can cause numbness and weakness in the extremities important for walking like feet and legs.
Considering that aging affects muscles, bones and brains differently helps explain why the loss of mobility among seniors is so common. Approaches to extending the ability to walk include exercise, proper nutrition and adequate rest. Obviously, regular medical care can help to identify and address any issues that interfere with mobility. While aging usually involves slowing down a bit, maintaining an ability to be mobile doesn’t have to suffer. Technology and attention to good health can keep seniors moving long into their golden years.


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