From a medical and rehabilitative standpoint, immobility is used to characterize a syndrome of physiologic decline that is a consequence of a decrease in activity and loss of conditioning. Many older adults experience physiological decline due to acute changes in mobility that occur as a result of acute medical illness and hospitalization. It is important that care providers in long-term care facilities be knowledgeable about the process of degeneration as they care for older adult patients. The most common causes of immobility in the older adult population are directly associated with the outcomes of disease and age-related physiologic changes. Long periods of acute immobilization often result in rapid loss of functioning and incomplete recovery of function after remobilization. The effect of immobility on older adults has a profound influence on morbidity, personal independence, health care expenses, quality of life, and mortality.
The prevalence of immobility among older adults is difficult to measure, but can be best assessed through measures of disability—particularly in the level of handicap. Handicap is a more holistic term that can describe the sociologic influence of disability on the individual, the person providing care, and society in general. Handicap measures are effective in defining the unique influence of functional change on a person.
The health care system faces the challenge to develop interdisciplinary awareness of the problem of immobilization and continuous functional decline among the elderly. Early identification of an older adult’s risk for functional decline and application of strategies to diminish the influence of progressive decline are critical to future heath care planning.