Obese older adults are more likely to use walkers, canes and other mobility devices at a younger age, and may run the risk of using them incorrectly, according to new research from Purdue University.
“Baby Boomers are coming of age and obesity is an epidemic for this population as well,” Karis Pressler, a doctoral student in sociology and gerontology and the project’s lead author, stated in a press release. “This research 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.”
Other studies have evaluated the use of assistive devices, but this study is different because it follows more than 1,000 individuals, ages 65 years and older, and tracks both their body weight and use of assistive devices for a 10 year period. The data is from a national survey about Medicare patients. The findings are published in the summer issue of The Gerontologist.
“A third of adults older than 65 years of age use at least one device, and lower body disability is what drives and predicts their use”, Pressler stated.
The most popular devices are shower seats and tub stools, grab or handle bars for bathing, walkers, canes or a raised toilet seat.
“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,” co-author Kenneth F. Ferraro, a professor of sociology and director of Purdue’s Center on Aging and the Life Course stated in the release. “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.”