The Impact of Age on Mobility: Examples & Overview

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  • 0:01 Mechanical System
  • 1:53 Balance
  • 3:06 Bones
  • 3:45 Joints
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson examines the physical changes that occur to the mechanical body as we age. Specific regards are given to what decreases mobility, and why.

Mechanical System

If you think about it, the human body is a mechanical system, which is an engine involved with force and movement. You heave yourself out of bed in the morning, you trudge to the bathroom, you drive to work, and you eventually come home. All of it has to do with movement, and movement has to do with the forces on the body.

Like any other mechanical system, there is a certain level of wear and tear that occurs. Not only are the forces being applied to it causing damage, like a piece of plastic that is bent never bends back to the same shape, but there is also wear with time. The body begins to corrode over time, breaking down in certain ways. We will examine the breakdown on this mobile mechanical system by looking at muscles, balance, bones, and joints.


As we age, the muscles begin to atrophy, or shrink in size and strength. This is why there are very few body builders old enough to be your grandparents. Let's not stand around and think about what that would look like. The speed at which this happens, though, appears to be genetically determined.

The atrophy causes gaps in the muscle tissues, which are filled with lipofuscin and fat. These can give a noticeably thinner appearance, which is why older people often have thin and bony hands and limbs. The atrophy also greatly reduces strength, rigidity, and tone, resulting in weaker and less responsive muscles.

The best way of dealing with atrophy is consistent and appropriate exercise. We aren't talking about weight lifting here. Inappropriate exercise for your age and abilities can lead to severe complications. A former supervisor of mine will likely need a foot amputated because of a mismanaged exercise class from two years ago.


Inside the ear is the vestibular organ, which is the part of the inner ear dedicated to balance and orientation. It is a bizarre little organ that is filled with fluid. They work by sensing where the pressure of the water is, giving you an orientation. When the fluid is accounted for, then you have a sense of balance. But when the fluid gets sloshed around, like going on a roller coaster or when your chair suddenly kicks a little bit when you are leaning back, then you lose that sense of balance.

While there are many factors that can attribute to issues with balance, particularly as we get older, get sicker, or have nervous system issues, the vestibular organ is still central. Like hearing, seeing, and taste, the sense of balance degrades over time. This leads to an increased difficulty staying upright when standing or moving.

This is important when we are young, because falling can hurt. But as we get older the rest of our body begins to break down. Previously discussed, the muscles are not as strong, so the fall is that much more of an impact. As we will discuss in a moment, the bones are much more brittle. A fall for an older person is like a fall for you with 100 extra pounds strapped to you.


So far it hasn't looked so good. We also know that bones don't get better as we age. There is an increase in the brittleness due to mineral loss, making bones prone to shatter. There is also the difficulty and time it takes to heal a broken or damaged bone. It can't get much worse, right?

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