What does episodic mobility mean?

Buckingham Palace confirmed in May that the late Queen Elizabeth II was suffering from 'episodic mobility issues'.

the Queen holding her walking stick
(Image credit: Future)

Buckingham Palace confirmed earlier this year that the Queen was suffering from "episodic mobility problems" - which led to her pulling out of a major royal ceremony. But what does episodic mobility mean?

The late Queen Elizabeth II was first pictured using a walking stick (opens in new tab) during a rare outing with Princess Anne in late October 2021 - just weeks after spending a night in hospital (opens in new tab) to undergo checks. The stick remained by the monarch's side throughout the last year of her life, aiding her during royal engagements she refused to give up in the wake of "episodic mobility problems".

The condition forced the Queen to pull out of the State Opening of Parliament (opens in new tab) in May - the only one she missed during her 70-year reign. So what is episodic mobility and what causes it?

What does episodic mobility mean?

Episodic Mobility is a common health problem that affects elderly people as it is a condition that means that some of the time, they have trouble moving around

Michal Boyd, (opens in new tab) an associate professor at Auckland University and nurse practitioner who specialises in elderly care, said the scientific term for such problems is frailty. “Basically, as people age, they become frailer,” she told online publication Stuff (opens in new tab). “You lose muscle mass, and as you lose it, you become weaker and you can’t mobilise.”

“That means not being able to stand for a long period of time,” Mr Boyd continued. “It can eventually progress to needing a wheelchair.”

the Queen with a walking stick in the wake of episodic mobility issues

(Image credit: Getty)

Buckingham Palace first confirmed that the Queen was suffering from episodic mobility in an official statement released in May. It read: "The Queen continues to experience episodic mobility problems, and in consultation with her doctors has reluctantly decided that she will not attend the state opening of parliament tomorrow.”

The late Queen's mobility issues were first speculated late last year when she was pictured carrying out an engagement with a walking stick. She used this same walking stick from October 2021 onwards, up until her death this year (opens in new tab). Most notably, Her Majesty was pictured with the same stick on the Buckingham Palace balcony during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. 

The monarch also confessed earlier this year that Covid had left her feeling "exhausted" and there were reports that she had a wheelchair-friendly lift installed at Balmoral as it was claimed she'd been using a wheelchair 'much of the time'.

In her first post-Covid face to face the Monarch also admitted, “Well, as you can see, I can't move.” Seemingly making reference to her mobility issues. 

What causes mobility issues?

In a 2013 study (opens in new tab), researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham stated that the following were common factors that lead to a loss in mobility:

  • Older age
  • Low physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Impaired strength and balance
  • Chronic diseases such as diabetes and arthritis

They also cited a number of less common causes that could lead to immobility. These being depression, drinking alcohol and smoking, and impaired memory. The risk of mobility issues increases if an individual has one or more of these factors.

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