When we think of mobility, the first thought might be of how we move about and venture from place to place. This includes walking (unaided or with some assistance), but there is so much more to mobility than just walking or propelling oneself (in the case of a wheelchair) from one location to another.
Mobility issues and considerations should be at the heart of all aging in place evaluations and design solutions.
Mobility – one of the main three functional capacities that we have, along with sensory and cognitive – is such a large part of how we exist. Most of us are probably unaware of just how much mobility factors into our daily lives. Unless we are totally incapacitated, we have some degree of mobility. This is why accounting for mobility concerns is such a key focus of aging in place design, even when there does not appear to anything else that needs to be addressed. Accounting for good mobility function is at the heart of allowing people to remain in their homes over time and to get along well in those environments.
In its basic sense, mobility involves any joint function from our necks to our toes – and everything in between. It’s how we twist our bodies from side to side, rotate, turn our heads, lift our arms, take a step, sit, stand, go to bed, rise, fix a meal, and the list is much longer.
Take driving a car. We walk to the car (or use our hands, arms, and shoulders to propel a wheelchair or move with a walker, crutches, or a cane). We open the door and sit behind the wheel. We move our legs into position to be able to drive. We snap our seat and shoulder belt. We check our mirrors by moving our eyes and turning our heads from side to side. We may adjust the seat position of the height of the steering wheel. We turn on the key or push the ignition. Then we adjust the temperature and perhaps the music. Now, we are ready to begin driving.
Before putting the car in gear which takes action by us, we look around to see if everything is safe. We use what we can see and what we detect in our backup camera if we have engaged reverse. We look from side to side by turning our heads. We glance down by moving our head and neck. We grasp the steering wheel and begin to move the car.
We likely do even more than this, but consider all of the mobility functions required or recommended just to get into the car and begin to drive it.
That driving illustration shows just how much mobility issues factor into our daily movements and how many of them go unnoticed as conscious activities or even any thought as to how easily we might be able to do them.
Back inside the home. Beginning our day, we get out of bed, but first, we have to move to a sitting position and then put our feet on the floor. We stand and then take a step. Followed by another one. We take off our night clothes and put on our clothes for the day. Maybe we take a morning shower. We walk to the kitchen, open the refrigerator to get a container of juice or milk, retrieve a glass from the cabinet, and pour ourselves something to drink. Maybe we make a cup of coffee or hot tea and have that.
To retrieve serving items, cups, glasses, cooking utensils, foodstuffs (like bread or cereal) from cupboards, drawers, or cabinets, we have to grasp a handle and pull the door or drawer open. We have to have enough gripping or grasping ability to control the handle and enough strength and range of motion to pull the door or drawer toward us and then access what we seek inside it.
Then, we stand at the cooktop or counter to prepare our meal, sit at the table or counter (or perhaps stand there), we eat with our fingers or eating utensils, and we lift the cup or glass with our beverage to drink it – and all of this requires mobility.
The list is extremely long of the various daily activities – at home, in the workplace, and in public – that we do that requires mobility. Even walking the dog or using the remote control to watch TV requires mobility.
In short, any joint movement, no matter how slight or how small the range of motion, is a part of mobility and needs to be considered as we help people remain in their homes long-term. These are factors that likely our clients have not considered but ones that we know need to be taken into account for successful aging in place. We need to seriously examine how people use their homes – even those with no urgent needs – because facilitating mobility is going to be extremely beneficial to them.