Use of walking aids and other mobility devices soaring, study finds

Mobility device use soared almost 50% among the over-65 population from 2004 to 2012, and researchers say the reasons are varied. 

The study, published in the May 6 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that 8.5 million seniors now use mobility devices. Among them, 1 in every 4 uses some kind of mobility aid such as a cane or walker, and about one in every 10 uses more than one type of device. 

Canes are the most popular and scooters the least used. Women, blacks, Hispanics and obese people are the most likely to use a mobility device, according to the research. 

Study lead author Nancy Gell, Ph.D., PT, MPH, an assistant professor of rehabilitation and movement science at the University of Vermont, and her colleagues interviewed more than 7,600 Medicare beneficiaries. The team compared data collected between 2011 and 2012 as part of the National Health and Aging Trends Study with figures from the 2004 Healthy and Retirement Study. Gell and others explain there may be a number of reasons for the spike in mobility devices, including: 
  • People are living longer, and thus there are more of them around with the usual disabling features that require assistive devices. 
  • Heightened awareness about falls lending more acceptance to, and thus greater use of, the devices.
  • More and more elders are living outside of institutional settings, where mobility devices are essential for safely navigating around.
  • More and more seniors have decided to address nagging mobility deficits, and correspondingly consenting to use an aid.
  • The devices are more socially acceptable.
  • Changes in the environment have improved accessibility for those who use them.