A Japanese medical association is warning that deterioration in motor functions increases the risk of becoming bedridden or needing nursing care with age.
The Japanese Orthopedic Association, which named the condition Locomotive Syndrome in 2007, has been advocating the importance of exercising and remaining alert for any decrease in physical strength.
Takashi Oe, chief doctor of the orthopedic department at NTT Medical Center Tokyo, said people suffering injuries or diseases related to motor functions are highly likely to develop the syndrome.
Bone fractures, osteoporosis, spinal or joint abnormalities, muscle weakness and nerve disorders are the main risk factors, according to Oe.
“Even among elderly people who are capable of taking care of themselves, their motor functions and bone density may have declined without them noticing,” Oe said. “If the condition is left unattended, problems could emerge . . . like a domino effect.”
A 2013 survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare found that among people who were certified by the government as being in need of nursing care, 25 percent became so due to motor function disabilities.
The association said someone who is unable to put on a sock while standing on one foot, who often falls or slips at home or needs a rail to climb stairs may be diagnosed with the syndrome.
In 2013, the association devised simple tests to examine a subject’s physical flexibility, lower body muscle strength and ability to maintain balance. Whether the subject feels pain or numbness can be assessed with a 25-question checklist.
The association has since been urging people to conduct self-examinations according to the tests and checklist.
“Japan needs to brace for the year 2025 when baby boomers will turn 75 and help them stay healthy longer,” Oe said, stressing that once they become aware of deterioration in their motor functions, they should change their lifestyle.
Keiji Fujino, director of an orthopedic hospital in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, founded in 2013 a nonprofit organization called Stop the Locomo Council to collaborate with local government health care divisions and raise awareness of the syndrome among elderly residents.
The doctor warned that it could be too late to stop the progression of symptoms by the time a person decides to come to the hospital.
He said when he asked some 400 patients at his hospital to apply for state recognition of being in need of nursing care, about 90 percent of them met the recognition criteria.
“I advise them to do exercises, but they refrain from going out as they are afraid of falling, and that will result in further deterioration of their functions,” Fujino said.
He said that one effective way to check if a person’s motor functions are weakening is a one-leg stand test, as it is a complex exercise of muscles and nerves.
Fujino also created a new qualification system for those who collaborate with local government officials and volunteer exercise instructors. Nurses, physical therapists and health care officials are qualified to take the test.
Some 720 people have been certified as Locomo Coordinators, and the organization aims to increase the number to 10,000 across Japan, according to Fujino.
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