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Reduced Social Engagement Related To Mobility

Mobility, Disability, and Social Engagement in Older Adults

Authors: Andrea L. Rosso, Jennifer A. Taylor, Loni Philip Tabb and Yvonne L. Michael

Journal of Aging and Health, June 2013

Active social engagement is an essential component of successful aging. Opportunities for social engagement may decline with age, particularly as physical function declines.

The association of life-space and functional disability with social engagement was evaluated in a Philadelphia population of non-institutionalized people ages 60 and older. Life-space was measured as the extent of movement in the past five months (around home, immediately outside the home, in the neighborhood, around the town or city, or beyond the town or city), the frequency of movement, and whether assistance of another person or equipment is needed.

Disability was assessed using a six-item activities of daily living (ADL) measure (eating, dressing, grooming, walking, transference and bathing) and a six-item independent activities of daily living (IADL) measure (using the telephone, getting to places outside of walking distance, shopping, preparing meals, taking medicine and managing money). Disability was defined as dependence or inability to perform one or more tasks.

Social engagement included activities that reinforce social ties and social roles.  The activities measured included: involvement in social organizations, awareness and involvement in the senior center activity program, frequency of telephone conversations with friends or family and frequency of internet use.

Study participants were characterized as having (a) high mobility with no disability, (b) high mobility with disability, (c) low mobility with no disability, or (d) low mobility with disability. Participants with low mobility without disability were older, more likely to be female, non-white, have chronic conditions, have a lower socioeconomic status and have depression or high stress, than were those with high mobility.

The University of Pittsburgh and the Drexel University School of Public Health researchers found that lower life-space mobility and disability were each associated with lower levels of social engagement both outside and inside the home. Limited mobility, even in the absence of disability, were associated with reduced social engagement. Other studies have shown that participation in social activities may protect against functional decline and disability, and that loneliness can lead to decreases in mobility and increased disability. The cause and effect relationship- whether decreased mobility leads to decreased social engagement or decreased social engagement leads to decreased mobility- is unclear.

Finding ways to maintain social engagement and social ties as functional limitations and disability occur is important in maintaining quality of life for older individuals and may be a means to prevent further decline in mobility and development of disability. Further studies are needed to determine the role that technology can play in maintaining social activities among older adults with limited mobility, and whether technology-assisted engagement is comparable to face-to-face engagement.