Purdue University logoIt is very common to see elderly people having a difficulty in walking. A new study triggered by the Purdue University affirms obese older people to be more likely of using walkers, canes and other mobility devices at a younger age. Moreover, such individuals may also face a risk of employing these devices in an inaccurate way.

The study included more than 1,000 elderly people aged 65 and older. The scientists monitored the body weight and employment of assistive devices for 10 years. Data provided from a national survey consisting of information regarding Medicare patients was taken into account during the study. The authors noted that one third of adults older than 65 utilized at least one device. All these adults reported lower body disability for employing mobility devices.

Karis Pressler, a doctoral student in sociology and gerontology and the project’s lead author elucidated, “Baby Boomers are coming of age and obesity is an epidemic for this population as well. This study shows that if obesity continues at this rate, we are going to see an increase in the use of assistive devices, which can be costly to individuals and the health-care system. Reliance on assistive devices can affect everyday life in multiple ways, from how you bathe, to how you dress, to how you move. If people don’t want to be reliant on these devices in the future, they need to realize how obesity heightens one’s risk of becoming disabled and affects how a person will compensate for that disability.”

The study participants commonly used shower seats and tub stools, grab or handle bars for bathing, walkers, canes or a raised toilet seat. Body mass index scales displaying more than 30 after taking into account both height and weight is considered as obese. The scientists revealed that overweight adults with a body mass index between 25 and 29.9 were not dependant on assistive devices.

Kenneth F. Ferraro, co-author, a distinguished professor of sociology and director of Purdue’s Center on Aging and the Life Course shared, “Obesity and disability create issues for society, such as in the number of handicap parking spots or availability of larger beds in hospitals and nursing homes. These challenges will escalate as our largest adult population ages. Being obese and disabled also fuels a vicious cycle. When you are functionally limited, physical activity is restricted, thereby burning fewer calories, which may lead to additional weight gain. This is another reminder that body weight matters throughout the life course.”

It was claimed that being overweight can readily lead to obesity. Such individuals can probably seek weight management for a healthy body mass. The intended assistive solution may deteriorate the problem if employed in an improper way. So before using a device, individuals should obtain advice from a health-care professional like a physical therapist.

Ferraro commented, “You can buy these devices almost anywhere – home improvement stores, discount stores or the pharmacy. It’s big business. These older adults, or even their adult children or other caregivers, are just trying to cope by helping adapt to physical changes, but there is no substitute for proper use of the devices. When deciding between a stationary walker and one with wheels, it’s best to consult with a specialist to receive the proper fitting and training. It could be dangerous to use or install something improperly, which could even lead to a fall.”

In addition, usage of mobility tool too early than actually needed seems to result in loss of lower body function. Further studies will be initiated to determine the social aspect of assistive devices, like the way social networks, friendships and relationships can affect depending on how or when people use them.

The study is published in the Gerontologist.