(HealthDay News) – Routine screening can identify older adults at risk of mobility limitation, and addressing their functional deficits with mobility devices and exercise can lead to improvement in mobility limitation, according to a review published in the Sept. 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Cynthia J. Brown, MD, MSPH, and Kellie Flood, MD, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, conducted a systematic literature review to identify mobility risk factors, screening tools, medical management, the need for physical therapy, and the efficacy of exercise interventions in community-dwelling older adults.

The researchers found that older age; low physical activity; obesity; strength or balance impairment; and chronic diseases, including diabetes and arthritis, were the most common risk factors for mobility impairment. In the ambulatory setting, several tools are available for assessing mobility. Physical therapy referral is appropriate, allowing physical therapists to assess limitations in mobility and develop interventions with a curative or function-enhancing goal. Few studies were available in support of therapeutic exercise for improving mobility limitation. Mobility-limiting physical weakness and balance disorders can be improved with resistance and balancing exercises, according to strong evidence. Of critical import is the assessment of a patient’s physical environment and their ability to adapt to it using mobility devices.

“Identification of older adults at risk for mobility limitation can be accomplished through routine screening in the ambulatory setting,” the authors write. “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.”

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