Economic and Social Research Council
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Maintaining mobility in older age

A study by the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme, a joint initiative by Research Council’s UK (RCUK), examines the relationship between successful ageing and mobility patterns. While maintaining mobility plays a significant part in healthy ageing, a new study highlights a high degree of inactivity even among an 'elite' sample of fit and healthy older people aged between 72 and 92 years.

"Mobility is hugely important in terms of older people being able to remain independent," explains Dr Lynn McInnes. "Reduced mobility can restrict a person's social life as well as limiting their access to shops, leisure and other activities. People fear not being able to look after themselves and being a burden on others. Often a cause of t

The study used innovative methods, such as location awareness technologies for mapping the mobility of the oldest-old members (75 years and over) of an existing 25-year longitudinal study of ageing.

The daily mobility activities of a fairly active group of people showed that 70 per cent of the day is spent sitting or lying, 22 per cent of the day standing and seven per cent of the day walking. The furthest distance travelled from their home is on average four miles, or approximately 23 miles in a single week, spread over five journeys per week. As much as 78 per cent of the day is spent indoors and 14 per cent of the day is spent on outdoor activities.

Evidence suggests that sitting most of the time is an important factor to take into account when looking at patterns of behaviour. The daily life of a person includes a combination of active, non-active or brief activities. These patterns suggest that changes occur as people age and starting an activity may be harder later in the day.

Lead researcher Dr McInnes points out: "New methods are needed to examine how much activity an individual does throughout a day. Monitoring activity levels by using tracking devices will help to assess the mobility ability of older people. Additionally, monitoring health and well-being can help identify individuals who may be at risk."

"In addition these findings highlight the importance of providing effective transport networks and a good range of local services to meet older people's needs," Dr McInnes explains. "Being able to stay mobile is crucial to older people's wellbeing, as loss of mobility means the loss of so many other things from their lives such as the ability to go shopping, meet friends and pursue hobbies and interests."

This project has helped to establish a reliable mobility profile of the oldest-old members of society by determining where individuals go and how active they are in the process and shows there is a clear relationship between mobility, health and well-being. It is encouraging to know that old age is not necessarily a time of ill health, a decline in thought processes or becoming a burden. Participants in this study exemplified ‘successful ageing’.

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Notes for editors

  • The project, New metrics for exploring the relationship between mobility and successful ageing was carried out by Dr Lynn McInnes, School of Psychology and Sports Science, University of Sheffield.
  • This project is part of the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme which is a seven- year multidisciplinary research initiative with the ultimate aim of improving quality of life of older people. The programme is a unique collaboration between five UK Research Councils and is led by the ESRC - including EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC, ESRC and AHRC and is the largest and most ambitious research programme on ageing ever mounted in the UK.
  • The sample of participants came from the North East Age Research longitudinal study. Mobility was assessed by three techniques: activity monitoring was achieved by participants being asked to wear an accelerometer taped to their thigh for a seven-day period; location monitoring was achieved by participants wearing an i-locate device (supplied by Trackaphone) for the same seven days. Participants also completed self-report time-use diaries pre-
  • Research Councils UK (RCUK) is the strategic partnership of the UK's seven Research Councils. We invest annually around £3 billion in research. Our focus is on excellence with impact. We nurture the highest quality research, as judged by international peer review, providing the UK with a competitive advantage. Global research requires that we sustain a diversity of funding approaches, fostering international collaborations, and providing access to the best facilities and infrastructure, and locating skilled researchers in stimulating environments. Our research achieves impact - the demonstrable contribution to society and the economy made by knowledge and skilled people. To deliver impact, researchers and businesses need to engage and collaborate with the public, business, government and charitable organisations.

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