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  • Use of Mobility Devices Up By 50% Among Adults 65 and Older

    Americans 65 and over are using mobility devices such as canes and walkers more than ever—and increasingly, using more than 1 device, depending on the setting. And while that use doesn't necessarily mean that these adults are experiencing more—or fewer—falls than their counterparts who don't use mobility devices, the usage rates could challenge professionals who provide training to rethink their approaches, according to a new study.

    In an article published in the May 6 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (.pdf), researchers shared data collected from National Health and Aging Trends (NHAT) surveys conducted in 2011 and 2012, and compared those data with earlier surveys. The 2011-2012 data included a nationally representative sample of 7,609 community-dwelling Medicare beneficiaries.

    What they found: in 2011-2012, nearly 1 in 4 adults over 65 (24%) reported using some kind of mobility device—a 50% increase since 2004. Of those users, 9.3% reported using more than 1 mobility device.

    Researchers offered several possible reasons for the rise in use, including greater disability rates, increased longevity, wider acceptance of the use of mobility devices, or "correction for unmet needs in previous decades."

    It's a topic worthy of further study, according to the authors, who write that "understanding the determinants of greater use will provide insight into the training needs of older adults (whether current mobility device training standards are sufficient for safety and mobility) and whether use tracks appropriately with current needs."

    When they shifted to an analysis of use data as it relates to self-reported falls incidence, authors found a mixture of the expected—for example, the highest incidence of falls was reported by participants with a history of device use and a history of falls—and the slightly surprising: there was no difference in falls incidence or recurrence of falls between the device and non-device groups, after adjusting for demographics, medical conditions, physical capacity, cognitive function, and falls history.

    On the other hand, use didn't lower incidence either.

    "Although mobility device use did not appear to lower the incidence of falling, this is not wholly unexpected, given that mobility device use is significantly associated with many of the risk factors for falls," authors write. "It is unknown how often comprehensive fall risk reduction efforts coincide with mobility device prescription."

    Authors believe the new finding that a significant number of Americans 65 and older use more than 1 mobility device could have an effect on the way training is approached.

    "This [finding] has implications for practitioners, especially those who prescribe and train older adults in the use of mobility devices," authors write. "In particular, a need for training and safety assessment on more than 1 device, when applicable, and continued follow-up to identify physical changes requiring additional devices or discontinuation of devices no longer needed for safety are indicated."

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

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