Sit anywhere and do some people watching. It’s a fun activity. Now notice the way people walk. For most people it seems to be a very normal and easy form of movement. Younger people move easily, with a spring in their step. The older people you observe as you do your people watching seem to move with more difficulty.
We walk all day, every day. It is a healthy exercise and with practice we develop a pace or gait that is unique to us. When our gait changes it is a sign that something is wrong. It could be due to injury, abnormal development of a component of the musculoskeletal system, or to movement disorders like Parkinson’s. Still others can be affected by vision or balance difficulties.
The older we get the more we are bothered by injuries and disorders to our body. We are made up of muscle, bone, and connective tissue. Anything that interferes with the normal movement of any of these components will affect our ability to walk easily.
Our feet support our weight and take years of pounding. My uncle once noted at a state fair that you could tell when someones feet hurt them. “Just look at their face. They look like they’re in pain.” And when our feet hurt, our entire bodies hurt. Our feet are made up of 26 bones, 33 joints and dozens and dozens of tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Just one thing going wrong in our feet can put us off our gait. Bunions, corns, calluses, warts, fallen arches, and plantar fasciitis can all affect our ability to walk.
Parkinson’s Disease is a form of a movement disorder where the nerve cells in the brain don’t produce enough dopamine. Beginning very gradually, symptoms start usually on one side of the body. Eventually, they will move to include both sides of the body. The classic trembling hands is often the first sign, but the trembling can move to the face, jaw, arms, and legs. As the disease progresses, people have a lot of difficulty walking.
Arthritis causes pain and swelling in the various joints of the body. When arthritis affects our hips, knees, ankles or other foot joints, we have trouble ambulating. One form of arthritis that can hit younger people is gout. Most people don’t realize that is a form of arthritis, but it can be excruciatingly painful and when it is in the foot, it renders the patient unable to walk. Gout is the result of a build up of uric acid in the body.
General balance problems also affect a senior’s ability walk. Sometimes dizziness can be due to medication, but it can also be a sign of disease or illness. Dizziness is responsible for many hip fractures that were the result of a fall. Balance problems should be addressed as soon as they are noticed.
All problems seniors face with walking will interfere with their quality of life. When you first begin to notice that you have trouble ambulating in a normal fashion, find out why and take steps to correct it. The longer you can walk, the longer you will be able to care for yourself independently.