Harvard Health Letter

Easy ways to protect your mobility

Ask these two questions to find out if you're at risk of losing mobility and independence.

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For most people, mobility is something that is taken for granted—at least until you lose it. Unfortunately, loss of mobility is common among older adults, and it has profound social, psychological, and physical consequences. "If you're unable to get out, then you can't go shopping, you can't go out with your friends to eat dinner, you can't go to the movies. You become dependent on other people to get you places," says geriatrician Dr. Suzanne Salamon, an instructor at Harvard Medical School. "So you become a recluse, you stay home, you get depressed. With immobilization you have trouble getting to the bathroom. With that comes incontinence, which can make you more vulnerable to urinary and skin infections."


Common factors that lead to loss of mobility include older age, low physical activity, obesity, impaired strength and balance, and chronic diseases such as diabetes and arthritis. Less common red flags include symptoms of depression, problems with memory or thinking skills, being female, a recent hospitalization, drinking alcohol or smoking, and having feelings of helplessness. Individuals with one or more of these factors are at risk for immobility.

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