Caregiver Blog: Understanding How Immobility Impacts Health

Article Categories: Caregiver Corner & Diseases and Conditions

Humans have to move their bodies to be healthy. Lack of body movement opens a host of problems for immobile persons, and this ultimately reduces their quality of life. The longer the patient is bedridden, the worse the effects of immobility are.

Immobility is a result of injuries, medical conditions, and mental health problems. It is often associated with pain, too.

Caregivers need to understand the ill effects of immobility so they can prepare adequately and spot possible complications. They also have to be motivated in following the course of action that addresses the problem in the care plan.
Effects of immobility

1. Poor circulation.

When the body’s circulation slows, the blood does not freely flow and tends to pool and clot. Clots can be dangerous because they can completely block blood flow to a body part. We know that blood carries oxygen and nutrients to different areas. With the total lack of blood supply, cells die.

A prime example of such a problem is stroke, where the blockage happens in the brain, and the brain cells become affected. Another fatal consequence is a heart attack where heart muscles die because clots prevented blood flow to the heart muscles.

2. Lack of strength.

Prolonged immobility also reduces muscle mass and bone strength. For every week without much movement, a patient loses 7%-10% of their energy. This problem aligns with the saying that “when you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Lack of movement tells the brain that the body doesn't need strong bones and muscles, so muscle wasting starts. The bones begin losing calcium and become brittle. Joints join the bandwagon, too, and end up stiff in the long run. All these factors result in pain, difficulty moving, and further loss of function.

3. Increased fat storage.

For many health reasons, extra fats in your body are never welcome. Lack of exercise prevents the burning of calories, and those extra calories are stored as fats. Immobility sends mixed signals to the brain, and the body starts failing to utilize food to make energy.

4. Constipation.

Immobility slows down many body processes, including digestion. The stomach and the intestines do not move to push food along the tract effectively, and the contents tend to stay long in the bowels. This results in constipation or blockage of the bowels.

5. Kidney stones.

Kidney stones form when minerals, such as the calcium that the bones and muscles lost while immobile, build up. Stones can cause kidney damage, infections, and blockage of the urinary tubes. Symptoms of dislodged kidney stones include severe pain, nausea and vomiting, and bloody or foul-smelling urine.

6. Weak skin.

During long periods of immobility, the skin suffers from poor blood supply. The skin receives less oxygen and nutrients to remain healthy. Also, there is increased heat and pressure in bony parts that are in contact with the bed.

All these factors cause the skin to break easily, and pressure ulcers appear. When the patient is dragged or moved in bed, the skin is further damaged and the problem worsens. Pressure ulcers cause extreme pain. The broken areas could also become infected, which in turn cause a ripple of other negative effects.

7. Increased risk for respiratory infections.

With a prolonged lack of movement, the lungs could not fully expand. Deep breathing becomes harder, too. This results in the pooling of secretions in the airway. Infections set in easily this way. Additionally, when secretions block the airways, air sacs collapse, and the lungs get damaged.

8. Depression.

Patients who cannot freely move around tend to feel helpless and depressed. Since they are also usually socially isolated, they also have poor self-esteem.

Bedridden patients could not easily do what they want. As a result, they become frustrated and irritable. In older people, immobility also increases the risk for confusion and poor mental functions.

Depression worsens the effects of immobility because patients lose the motivation and interest in doing things.
Prolonged immobility poses a big threat to the overall health of a patient because of the many ways that the body and mind are affected. This is the reason why caregivers must work with the healthcare team and be diligent in following the care plan to help patients get their much needed exercise. Addressing mobility issues can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life.


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