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What To Do When An Elderly Parent Can’t Walk

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Whether it happened all at once or more gradually, your elderly parent may be at the point where they can no longer walk on their own two feet. They are likely upset about their loss of independence, so what can do you do to assist them?

When an elderly parent can’t walk, follow these steps:

  • Get them a medical evaluation
  • Buy them a walking aid
  • Remove any mobility barriers in their home
  • Be their transportation
  • Consider at-home medical care

In this guide, we’ll discuss in a lot more detail what you should do when your aging family members have mobility limitations.

From what causes weak legs to the best walking aids and mobility devices for elderly parents, there’s lots of great info ahead.

What Would Cause An Elderly Parent To Not Be Able To Walk?

Physical ability decreases as people age, and that includes mobility, as well.

Where once, your aging parent could walk around their own home – including ascending and descending their staircase – they eventually began moving slower. Then they couldn’t use the stairs, and now they have such limited mobility they can barely get around from room to room. 

Why does this happen?

To start with, many health problems can cause mobility problems in older adults, so let’s take a closer look now.

Medications

If your elderly parent is on certain medications such as anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, sedatives, and/or anti-hypertensive medication, one or more of these drugs can contribute to a loss of mobility. 

Autonomic Neuropathy 

Dysautonomia or autonomic neuropathy is a dysfunction that affects the rate in which nonvoluntarily bodily functions occur.

The pain that’s associated with this condition can affect the hands and feet especially, the latter of which can prevent older people from walking. 

Muscular Myopathy

Myopathy is a general disease that limits voluntary muscle motions. The muscle fibers are dysfunctional and become weak.

The affected muscles cannot be used to the extent they once could, which could restrict your elderly parent’s ability to walk. 

Labyrinthitis 

When the labyrinth or inner ear becomes inflamed, this is called labyrinthitis. In some cases, the vestibulocochlear nerve or eighth cranial nerve becomes inflamed as well.

Symptoms can include hearing loss and vertigo, and it’s the vertigo that can make standing upright and walking very difficult. 

Dementia Or Alzheimer’s

Although dementia and Alzheimer’s are brain diseases, the brain oversees your abilities to stay balanced and move. Thus, if that part of your brain is damaged, walking can become difficult or impossible.

Patients who cannot walk from Alzheimer’s or dementia are usually in the later stages of this condition. 

Foot Issues

From bunions to corns, and even shoes that are too large or too small, these common situations might not be serious, but they can affect how far your older parent feels comfortable walking. 

Fractures Or Broken Bones

As bones weaken with age, the risk of fractures and broken bones goes up. If a close family member has fallen before, they may be afraid to chance falling again, so they sit whenever possible.

In addition, seniors who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to express that they are in pain or where they’re hurting, so it’s harder for family caregivers or adult children to understand why they can’t walk. 

Spinal Stenosis

If elderly people have spinal stenosis, then their spinal nerves and spinal cord are impacted by pressure, especially in the lower back and the neck. The condition can be asymptomatic, but common symptoms include lack of bowel control, impaired bowel, muscle weakness, numbness, and pain. 

Lumbar spinal stenosis, especially, is likely to change how well a senior can walk. 

Arthritis 

From rheumatoid arthritis to osteoarthritis, all forms of arthritis are usually quite painful. If the impacted joints are in the lower half of the body especially, your aging mother or father might not be in the mood to move any more than needed. 

Parkinson’s Disease

A patient of mine began having trouble walking when she was in her late 50s. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get her legs to go any faster.

Her daily routine of taking walks in the park turned into long, slow strolls that frustrated her family members. Those symptoms turned out to be the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

A central nervous system disorder, Parkinson’s can cause tremors that make any form of movement difficult, and that includes walking. The additional symptoms of Parkinson’s are stiffness and a lack of balance, neither of which benefit a Parkinson’s patient in their mobility. 

What Helps Elderly With Weak Legs?

Whether it’s one of the conditions above or something else entirely, your elderly parent has been diagnosed with weak legs. You’d like to do your part to maintain what mobility they have left. What can do you do?

Here are our suggestions. 

Review Their Diet

A vitamin D deficiency could be one cause of weak legs in seniors. If your elderly parent isn’t getting 1,000 IU per day of vitamin D, then it’s time to assess and modify their diet. 

Leafy green vegetables are a great source of vitamin D, including collards, kale, and spinach. Fruit also contains vitamin D, mostly oranges.

Vitamin D supplements are another option, but ask their healthcare provider if it is all right for them to take them. Sometimes, an over the counter supplement isn’t the best way for them to get vitamin D. They may need a prescription supplement instead.

Elevate Their Legs

When your elderly parent is sitting down watching TV or reading in bed, get them into the habit of elevating their legs. They’ll reduce their rate of swelling and encourage better blood circulation. 

All they need to elevate their legs is a cushion, so you don’t have to shop for costly medical equipment. 

Do Leg Exercises

Chair exercises, as well as exercises that require your elderly parent to stand are both good for improving their balance. Bed exercises can help, too. Either way, they’ll also burn some calories.

Between getting regular exercise and eating a healthier diet, your senior can keep their weight down. Being overweight can reduce leg weakness. 

If these exercise don’t seem to be of much help, ask your parent’s doctor whether physical therapy should be the next step.

How Do You Get An Older Person To Walk Again? 

Outside of the above care options, the following tips and suggestions might also help your elderly parent get back on their feet, quite literally. 

Get Them A Medical Evaluation

It’s hard to tell whether it’s arthritis or spinal stenosis or even an ear disorder that’s causing your senior parent’s immobility without a medical evaluation. A doctor can use CT scans, X-rays, and other forms of advanced testing to provide a diagnosis if h. 

By managing or treating their condition, your senior parent’s mobility and thus their quality of life may improve. 

Buy Them A Walking Aid

We’ll talk more about walking aids in the next section, but if their doctor recommends it, then an assistive device, such as a cane or walker, can be a great way for an elderly family member to get around.

Seniors can still maintain some degree of independence, which will also drive up their quality of life. 

Remove Any Mobility Barriers In Their Home

If your elderly parent still lives at home, either alone or with their partner, it’s a good idea to look through their home and determine where mobility barriers exist.

For example, a staircase is likely a barrier to independent living at their age. A stairlift allows a senior to get up and down the stairs without physical effort, but these lifts are expensive. 

Another example of a mobility barrier is the shower. Your elderly parent might not be able to stand long enough to shower, so they forego bathing at all. With a shower chair, your senior can take breaks and sit when they need to.

TIP: We strongly recommend that grab bars be installed in several places throughout your parent’s home. Read our article for where to put them and how to install grab bars.

You’ll have to modify or remove any mobility barriers you come across in their current home. Keep in mind, this can be costly but it is necessary for your parent’s safety! 

Be Their Transportion

If your elderly parent can barely walk, they more than likely cannot drive themselves either. You might have to commit to transporting them to all their medical appointments, social obligations, the pharmacy or grocery store, or wherever else they need to go.

Should your senior parent begin using a mobility aid, depending on the size (such as a wheelchair), you might need a specialized vehicle or at least a sizable one to accommodate them. 

Consider Home Care Services

Caring for senior with limited mobility around the clock is exhausting work for home caregivers. If you have a full-time or part-time job or a family waiting for you in your own home, you might not be able to commit the time, resources, and cash needed to keep up with your caregiving duties.

At this point, the best thing might be to consider hiring a professional caregiver.

Home care assistance can provide help with important things like medication reminders, meal preparation, daily tasks around the home, and extra help with daily activities like showering, dressing, and toileting.

Medicare or Medicaid might provide some coverage for this elder care service. What they cover depends on the plan your parent has, as well as the extent of your parent’s needs. 

What Is The Best Walking Aid For The Elderly?

We said we’d talk more about walking aids, and we want to do that in this section. Your elderly parent might need to use a cane, wheelchair, rollator, walker, or a motorized scooter.

Of these walking aids, which is the best for the elderly?

Each walking aid has its advantages and disadvantages, so let’s talk more about those now.

Canes

A cane offers the least degree of support, so for long-distance walking, especially with an elderly person with mobility issues. Some canes, such as quad canes, provide better support than a traditional cane.

That said, in a crowded location, a cane takes up little room. It’s also easily transportable. 

Wheelchairs

A wheelchair allows your senior parent to maintain their independence if theirs is self-moving, usually through an electric motor. Otherwise, you might have to push your parent around in the wheelchair.

This type of wheelchair is known as a transport chair.

Wheelchairs are incredibly stable, but some can be expensive. Even though wheelchairs can compress, they’re still bulky and more difficult to bring in a car. 

Motorized Scooter

A motorized scooter allows your senior parent to travel in style. They can cross long distances easier since they’re not physically walking. They control the scooter using a motor controller.

However, a motorized scooter takes up a lot of room when they’re out and about. Traveling with a motorized scooter in the car is also very difficult. 

Walker

A walker increases an elderly person’s balance and stability, supporting them with every step. Although they can’t go as far as they could in a motorized scooter or wheelchair, a walker does allow for some decent distance traveling. 

Rollator

The rollator is like a walker and a wheelchair combined. They’re usually wider than walkers and with larger wheels for even greater stability.

However, the added size and bulk of a rollator don’t make it easy to bring in the car. 

Wrapping Things Up  

If your elderly parent struggles to walk, the first steps should be determining why they are having difficulty. Do this through a medical evaluation.

Next, you should install grab bars and remove any barriers to mobility that you find in their home. Then choose a walking aid. 

Make sure you’re modifying your senior parent’s diet and helping them exercise their legs. The good news is that this will benefit their mobility too! 

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