As you get older, you may feel less confident walking, or less able to take your fitness for granted.
If you're concerned about being able to walk without pain or breathlessness, or you are concerned about falling, you may find you start to walk less, both outside your home and within it.
In general, moving less tends to lead to worse mobility and a higher risk of falls, as well as the less freedom for you. Falls are less likely when we're able to keeping our muscles and sense of balance in good condition. Walking contributes to maintaining bone density, which makes broken bones less likely if you do fall.
For most older people, walking is a healthy choice that can keep you thriving. Speak to a health professional if you have a health condition, and be aware of your body’s limits and adapt as you need to.
If you are having trouble with things like getting on and off the toilet and in and out of bed, you are entitled to an assessment from your local Social Care department, who may be able to help you by providing small aids or adaptations to your home. They or your doctor may also be able to help you find classes that will help you to build up your basic fitness and movement skills.
If you live alone and are worried about falling, you might want to think about a personal alarm, which you can get either through your local authority or through various private providers.
There are many excellent resources aiming to help you reach and maintain basic fitness so that you can safely stand, sit and walk short distances. We particularly like these resources from NHS Scotland which help you to work out where you need to start and then help you to move forward.
Walking sticks and other walking aids can help by giving you a bit of extra confidence in your stability, or a chance to rest. They can also be helpful in “sending a signal” to other people that you may need a bit of extra space or time when you are walking.
If you are thinking about getting a walking stick or other walking aid, it’s best to get advice from a physiotherapist or other professional both on what aid would be most suitable, and on making sure it’s adjusted for your needs. There are also some good guides online as a first port of call, such as this one from DLF.
Remember that walking sticks and other walking aids need maintenance to continue to be safe and useful.
If you’re just starting to think about getting fit to walk again, or are concerned about keeping fit enough to walk, your home is probably your first concern.
A few key things to think about are:
If you are beginning to have difficulties with your memory, you might start to stay at home more to avoid getting lost or confused while you’re out walking.
However, we know that physical, mental and social activity can all slow the progress of dementia, and should be supported as seriously as other ways of managing your health.
Maintaining habits and skills when you have dementia is easier than building up new habits. Try to keep doing the things you already do.
Sometimes the answer is to ask other people to support you in staying active, perhaps by walking with you. If you used to walk to your library or bowling club alone, can a friend chap your door if they’re heading there too? You can find other ideas on our Walking Together page.
Sometimes there are technology solutions to help with safety. Mobile phones and other devices can have GPS trackers, meaning you can call on someone for help if you need it, while continuing to walk independently.
Finding your way
If you’re finding it difficult to walk within your home because of memory problems, including those caused by dementia, there are some simple things that might help.
People often avoid tasks if they find it a memory and navigation challenge, which means they may stay sitting for longer.