Mobility limitation in the older patient: a clinical review

JAMA. 2013 Sep 18;310(11):1168-77. doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.276566.


Importance: Mobility limitations are common in older adults, affecting the physical, psychological, and social aspects of an older adult's life.

Objective: To identify mobility risk factors, screening tools, medical management, need for physical therapy, and efficacy of exercise interventions for older primary care patients with limited mobility.

Evidence acquisition: Search of PubMed and PEDro from January 1985 to March 31, 2013, using the search terms mobility limitation, walking difficulty, and ambulatory difficulty to identify English-language, peer-reviewed systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and Cochrane reviews assessing mobility limitation and interventions in community-dwelling older adults. Articles not appearing in the search referenced by reviewed articles were also evaluated.

Findings: The most common risk factors for mobility impairment are older age, low physical activity, obesity, strength or balance impairment, and chronic diseases such as diabetes or arthritis. Several tools are available to assess mobility in the ambulatory setting. Referral to physical therapy is appropriate, because physical therapists can assess mobility limitations and devise curative or function-enhancing interventions. Relatively few studies support therapeutic exercise to improve mobility limitation. Strong evidence supports resistance and balance exercises for improving mobility-limiting physical weakness and balance disorders. Assessing a patient's physical environment and the patient's ability to adapt to it using mobility devices is critical.

Conclusions and relevance: Identification of older adults at risk for mobility limitation can be accomplished through routine screening in the ambulatory setting. Addressing functional deficits and environmental barriers with exercise and mobility devices can lead to improved function, safety, and quality of life for patients with mobility limitations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening*
  • Mobility Limitation*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Risk Factors