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How does physical disability or restricted movement in senior citizens cause depression?

After 60, as this particularly morbid old joke does, if you don’t feel any pain in any part of your body, then you are probably dead. That’s probably because our bones and muscles weaken in our old age, making falls and fractures more common. According to one international study, falls account for 87% of all fractures among people aged 65 years or older. For most people this is the slow and inevitable part of their aging that tends to slow down their movement considerably.

As we live longer, we have also learnt to live with ailments that restrict our movement. From hip surgeries to kneecap replacements there is a medical solution for most ailments that plague the elderly but there is no guarantee that they will spring back into action. Instead with each fracture or surgery or even a simple fall, they tend to rely either on crutches like walking sticks, walkers or wheelchairs. There soon comes a time when venturing out for their daily walk is fraught with peril.

Researchers have discovered some factors that lead to loss of mobility in older age such as low physical activity, obesity, impaired strength and balance, and chronic diseases such as diabetes and arthritis. Loss of mobility among older adults, has profound social, psychological, and physical consequences. While the reduced movement is often a safety consideration on the part of family and primary caretakers to ensure they don’t suffer any falls, it has several unfortunate side effects.


Firstly it reduces their independence and mobility which is often a great booster of confidence and self-respect. Given a chance, most senior citizens would like to be self-reliant and independent. Making them rely on a device or another person to step out for basic tasks not only increases their dependence but decreases their chances of actually becoming more mobile. With less mobility and greater confinement, they tend to worry more, fixate on depressing thoughts and feel less self-confident overall. All these are often the first steps towards dementia or depression.

Secondly most of their socializing is centred around their morning or evening walks, or in pursuit of their hobbies. Take away the movement and you take away their entire social fabric. The more the elderly are confined to home care and get to see just a few faces a day, the more you increase their chances of dementia or depression. It is a well-known fact that most of us tend to get a boost in brain functions when exposed to newness – be it in the form of activity or social interactions every day. The lack of social contact or isolation can escalate into full blown depression if the elderly are confined to a small space with minimal social interaction for too long.

Some experts believe allowing senior citizens mobility with some assistance is a better option than restricting movement even for those with physical disabilities. If weak bones and fractures place a physical impediment to mobility the trick may be in using the aid of physiotherapy as well as nutritional supplements to enable their slow return to some form mobility. Sometimes, even the endeavor towards movement can boost the mood of the elderly. So encourage them to get moving to keep depression at bay!

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