Tips for Detecting Mobility Problems in a Loved One


The loss of mobility is common among the elderly. As people age, it becomes more of a challenge to do the things they once enjoyed doing and even need to do. It can become difficult to accomplish even the smallest of tasks, like getting out of bed in the morning or standing up.

When an elderly loved one experiences mobility problems, he or she may also begin to experience other physical problems, emotional problems, and may even experience cognitive decline. Learning what the risk factors for mobility loss are and detecting the beginning signs of it could help prevent a fall-related accident and help prepare an aged loved one to face the challenges brought about by decreased mobility.

Risk Factors that Lead to Mobility Problems

Researcher Cynthia J. Brown, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), analyzed multiple studies and articles from 1985 to 2013 to identify mobility risk factors. What Brown found was that there is a set of common risk factors that make experiencing mobility problems later in life much more likely. The risk factors include:

  • Balance impairment
  • Obesity
  • Low physical activity
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Older age

When a person has experienced any one of these risk factors, his or her chances of developing mobility problems rise significantly. One difficulty in addressing the mobility problems that physicians run into is that these risk factors are also indicators of other health issues, such as heart disease. There are so many other things that doctors are looking for that mobility isn’t seen as a priority, or if it is noticed, it is brushed off as just a normal part of getting older.

Tips for Detecting Early Signs of Mobility Trouble

The good news is that it doesn’t take a doctor to evaluate an elderly loved one’s mobility levels. Researchers have found four main areas relevant to identifying mobility issues. If an elderly person has difficulty with any of these tasks, the person has mobility problems.

The four main areas are:

  1. Getting up from a chair
  2. Sitting down
  3. Turning while walking
  4. Raising the feet while walking

Dr. Mary Tinetti conducted a groundbreaking study in 1988 that looked at 336 elderly people who performed mobility exercises involving the four main areas of mobility. Clinicians found through the study that direct assessment was the best indicator of mobility problems. As a result of her findings, Tinetti created the Performance-Oriented Mobility Assessment. This test has been used for nearly 30 years to assess people’s mobility.

Another test, The Timed Up and Go (TUG) test, has been used for years in community and home settings to assess the mobility of residents and their fall risks. This test is based on the four main areas of mobility also. The test is very simple and begins with the person in a sitting position and ends with him or her sitting back down. The person must walk a straight line of three meters and then turn around and walk back. The subject should be able to walk faster than a yard per second and should also be steady on the feet when turning around to go back to the chair. The older the person is, the more time is allotted to complete the test. A 65 year old should be able to complete the task in less than nine seconds. A 90 year old should be able to complete it in less than 12 seconds.

Elderly people who have a difficult time getting up from the sitting position, sitting back down, changing direction when walking, and completely picking up their feet while walking have the warning signs of mobility problems. If a family member/caregiver thinks an elderly loved one is having trouble with daily tasks that involve mobility, chances are good it will become noticeable in one of the four areas.

Resource to Improve Mobility

Mobility problems affect much more than a person’s ability to get from one place to another. A lot is at stake once a person begins to have trouble with things such as getting dressed in the morning or making it to the bathroom in time to avoid an accident. Therefore, it is important to properly assess people’s mobility risks and take preventive measures.

If a family member/caregiver feels a loved one has mobility problems that need to be addressed, there are options. Physical therapy has been an effective diagnostic and curative resource that can identify and enhance mobility issues. Occupational therapy is also a wonderful resource that will help improve conditions in a practical way around the home. This means that mobility is approached from a daily living perspective by equipping a person’s living space to accommodate any issues. Assistive walking devices are also beneficial tools that can improve quality of life and reduce the risk of falling.

It is important to get help for a person’s mobility problem before a fall occurs. Preventing the first fall is very important. Addressing mobility problems early on can help reduce the risks and complications that come with falls.


Brown, C. J. (2013). Mobility Limitation in the Older Patient: A Clinical Review. JAMA, 310 (11): 1168-1177. Available at Last visited June 8, 2016.

Tinetti, M., Ginter, S. F. (1988). Identifying Mobility Dysfunctions in Elderly Patients: Standard Neuromuscular Examination or Direct Assessment. JAMA, 259 (8): 1190-1193. Available at Last visited June 2, 2016.

University of Nebraska Medical Center. Timed Up and Go (TUG) Test. Available at Last visited June 2, 2016.