Mobility Decline in Old Age

Merja Rantakokko; Minna Mänty; Taina Rantanen


Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2013;41(1):19-25. 

In This Article


Mobility is important for maintaining community independence into old age. Aging changes, pathology, individual vulnerabilities, and environmental barriers increase the risk for mobility decline. Mobility decline may happen gradually for many years, or it may occur overnight because of a catastrophic event such as a hip fracture. To optimize the opportunities for good mobility in old age, a spectrum of actions should be considered, including both preventive and rehabilitative interventions. First of all, all individuals should have access to physical exercise. This is not yet self-evident for older people, as, for example, ageism, financial constraints, or physical barriers may prevent participation. Communities should be accessible, and neighborhoods should include features that facilitate mobility, that is, resting places or green areas. It is intuitive that removing barriers to mobility commonly experienced by older people, such as adding resting places and proper lighting to walking routes, would increase their opportunities for walking.

Attention should be paid to preventive interventions seeking to minimize the individual risk factors for mobility decline, such as obesity, sensory impairments, falls, or physical inactivity. Special interventions should target risk groups. For example, older people who are recovering from an injury or a disease should receive rehabilitation. In all, young and middle-aged people could prevent their future risk for mobility decline by aiming to increase their physiological reserve, whereas younger older people may slow down aging declines by being active, learning new mobility skills, and through good treatment of diseases. Among older old people, specific interventions, rehabilitation, and supportive environments assume greater importance.