Environmental demands associated with community mobility in older adults with and without mobility disabilities

Anne Shumway-Cook, Aftab E. Patla, Anita Stewart, Luigi Ferrucci, Marcia A. Ciol, Jack M. Guralnik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

234 Scopus citations


Background and Purpose. In this study, the influence of 8 dimensions of the physical environment on mobility in older adults with and without mobility disability was measured. This was done in order to identify environmental factors that contribute to mobility disability. Subjects. Subjects were 36 older adults (≥70 years of age) who were recruited from 2 geographic sites (Seattle, Wash, and Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) and were grouped according to level of mobility function (physically able [ability to walk 1/2 mile (0.8 km) or climb stairs without assistance], physically disabled). Methods. Subjects were observed and videotaped during 3 trips into the community (trip to grocery store, physician visit, recreational trip). Frequency of encounters with environmental features within each of the 8 dimensions was recorded. Differences in baseline characteristics and environmental encounters were analyzed using an analysis of variance or the Fisher exact test, as appropriate. Results. Mobility disability among older adults was not associated with a uniform decrease in encounters with environmental challenges across all dimensions. Environmental dimensions that differed between subjects who were physically able and those with physical disability included temporal factors, physical load, terrain, and postural transition. Dimensions that were not different included distance, density, ambient conditions (eg, light levels and weather conditions), and attentional demands. Discussion and Conclusion. Understanding the relationship of the environment to mobility is crucial to both prevention and rehabilitation of mobility disability in older adults. Among older adults, certain dimensions of the environment may disable community mobility more than others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)670-681
Number of pages12
JournalPhysical Therapy
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Disability
  • Environment
  • Mobility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Health Professions(all)
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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