Time to move: Get up, get dressed, keep moving

Dr Amit Arora is a Consultant Physician and Geriatrician at University Hospital of North Midlands, Stoke on Trent and an Honorary Clinical Lecturer at Keele University. In this blog he takes a look at the impact deconditioning can have on patients and what can be done to help tackle it.

Many years ago I was subject to restricted mobility following an emergency appendicectomy.

It took me a surprisingly long time to regain my strengths and abilities – I noted that despite the youth and the will, my muscles would not move and it took a while to recover back to normal!

When I relay my own story back to the frail older people I see at work, I can understand why someone who was able to function well before they came to hospital takes longer to regain their pre-admission functionality. Prolonged hospital stay, bed rest and associated risks may lead to loss of muscle power, strength and abilities. This is something we surely need to avoid. It should help achieve a shorter length of stay, better outcomes for patients and better ability at discharge.

Older people, whether in hospitals, care homes or at their own homes, who do not get enough opportunity to mobilise, can have an increased risk of reduced bone mass and muscle strength, reduced mobility, increased dependence, confusion and demotivation. These problems can be attributed to the phenomenon of what can be termed as ‘Deconditioning Syndrome’.

This affects well-being as well as physical function and could result in falls, constipation, incontinence, depression, swallowing problems, pneumonia and leads to demotivation, and general decline. Deconditioning Syndrome can happen in hospitals right from the time of entry, care homes and also patients’ own homes.

Preventing Deconditioning Syndrome requires a broader strategic approach that includes physical therapy, maintenance of nutrition, medical management, and psychological support including addressing loneliness; essentially addressing elements of the Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment.

But, are all health care staff and patients aware of the phenomenon of deconditioning?

Are we doing enough to prevent deconditioning? Our survey demonstrated limited awareness of this important condition. Hence we developed a campaign to educate and make our staff aware about Deconditioning Syndrome.

What can be done? Well simple things first.

We could ensure that glasses and hearing aids are readily available, calendars and clocks are visible to promote awareness, ensure that patients are sat up in chairs, preferably in their own clothes.

We could ensure that meals are eaten whilst sitting in chairs and not spoon fed in bed unless circumstances dictate so.

We could encourage patients to wash and dress independently, walk to the toilet where possible, provide appropriate mobility aids earlier on and encourage patients to keep their arms and legs moving in bed or chair.

We should ask is the chair and mobility aids of the right height; is the urinary catheter still required or can it come out? Removing restrictions on visiting hours and encouraging normal social interactions will also help to maintain functionality, regain independence and reduce loneliness. All this will help with “Home First”.

Patients need to be supported and encouraged to get moving as quickly as possible, where possible. As leaders it is our role to encourage our staff to in-turn encourage our patients to do what they can.

Education of patients, relatives, carers and staff about the dangers of deconditioning is vital, since bed rest continues to be expected during a phase of illness despite the considerable evidence showing potential adverse effects from inactivity. Of course there are times and conditions when bed rest would be advisable; but more often than not, this is not the case in the strictest terms.

Regaining strengths and functionality (re-conditioning) can often take twice as long as deconditioning. If it has taken one month to get to this low level of function, it may take two months of hard work to return to their original level. It is often said that for every 10 days of bed rest in hospital, the equivalent of 10 years of muscle ageing occurs, in people over 80 years old- this may or may not be true to the word but certainly puts things in perspective and makes one think differently- surely did it for me and  my colleagues.

If we want the best outcomes for our patients, it is necessary to design and develop effective programs for prevention of deconditioning. Deconditioning can start within hours of immobility. We need to get our patients up as quickly as possible, while being careful not to overload them. Under the guidance of therapists, it can be done by ward based staff- it’s ‘everyone’s business’ to get involved in restoring normalcy.

Across our hospitals and care homes, we need to inculcate a culture to make health care staff and families aware of the phenomenon of deconditioning. We need to develop simple exercise models for our ageing population which should be everyone’s business and not just of therapy staff. This may cost more in the short term, but with major long term societal health gains.

We have launched a ‘Deconditioning Awareness’ campaign’. There are banners, posters, screensavers, information leaflets, exercise programs, videos and demonstrations to raise awareness and some of these can be accessed on the link below and the material contained here is available freely for use for benefit of patients.


Dr Amit Arora is a consultant geriatrician in the North Midlands, Clinical Director for the Emergency Care Improvement Support Team of NHS England and a Vice President (Workforce) for the British Geriatrics Society.

He is the founding Director of the National Frailty Academy and creator of the National Deconditioning Awareness and Prevention campaign and is now leading the national mission to #ReconditionTheNation.


  1. Charles Townsend says:

    Dear Sir
    I am in the process of developing a my invention for commercialisation : The Leeper – An exercise trainer for the lower limbs.
    It is a simple and easy device to install, and use without the aid of a carer. It works on the calf pump function using a twin axle to make the device stable and compact. Results show significant outcomes.(blood circulation and sheer rate)
    You might be interested in discussing the above further?
    Kind regards

  2. Gillian says:

    There are posters like this at my local hospital. They mention the benefits of having an area on the wards where patients can get together away from their beds.

    I found it ironic that one of them was outside the Multi-disciplinary team room. About 25 years ago, it used to be the day-room, or patients lounge!

  3. Aldene Fowkes says:

    This is very thought provoking thank you. I am a MSc adult nursing student embarking on a Service Improvement Project , addressing this very subject. It is so important to enable mobility and self care as soon as possible after an acute event to regain their confidence and agree hospitals can do so much more.

    • Amit Arora says:

      Thanks Aldene
      We have communicated through emails etc. and hope your work is progressing very well.
      There are many more PhD/MSc students who have made similar contacts. Many more hospitals have joined in. Preventing Deconditioning remains an important part of recovery of older people, does not cost much and will be key issue in times to come if the response to campaign is to be believed. I am most grateful to so many who support this initiative.
      Amit Arora

  4. Mary Anderson says:

    I think this is very interesting and needs to be supported by adequate care levels to implement. It is often a lack of support to gain confidence than renders patients too afraid of a fall.

    • Amit Arora says:

      Thanks Mary
      This is a common query I have been asked. However on monitoring we have not found a significant increase in falls risk. Ofcourse due precautions and assessments of risk will need to be part of the program. Happy to give more details if needed.
      All the best.

  5. Rachael Sharples says:

    I am both delighted & dismayed by this article. I am a physiotherapist of over 30 years experience and this article epitomises everything I have trained for and have done every day throughout my career. So although I agree with all that Dr Amit Arora says I feel this should have been happening anyway especially if there are physiotherapists and occupational therapists on the team Activity keeps people well (Exercise:the miracle cure 2015 AMORC). Activity is the responsibility of everyone. A single person cannot do this alone and part of every therapists job is educating patients, carers and staff of this. There aren’t many therapists so they can’t do it alone. At the moment there is also a move in palliative care is to get this message across through Rehabilitative Palliative Care (2015, HospiceUK) this is all about rehabilitation being everyone’s business. Great resources and ideas but feel saddened that people were not aware that across the country lots of good work exists.

    • Jane M says:

      This is so true and there is great work happening but not everywhere so it’s good that Dr Arora raises the issues once more. We somehow suspend our common sense when people go into hospital

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks Jane M
        As you say it should happen but does not always happen. Collectively we can look into it and promote in our workplaces.
        More to come soon.
        Amit Arora

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks Rachael
      I agree it is part of routine care that therapists, nurses, doctors and others have always advocated. However it is also clear that somewhere down the line, it has unfortunately become less of a priority in recovery. Part of this is lack of time and staff as I have been feedback. I know this first hand as I am a full time clinician myself. My own experience is it can still be done, staff are willing to do it, we just need to spread the message, make staff and public aware and encourage others. We will get there because this is the right thing to do.
      Amit Arora

  6. Tim Sanders says:

    I wonder also about deconditioning that happens with the onset of decreased mobility – ie. people living at home, and not related to hospitalisation. Especially for people who find the stigma of using a walking aid outweighs the motivation to keep moving. So, as difficulty and / or pain with walking develops, people go out less, lurch around holding onto furniture, get waited on by the fitter partner or other carer…

    Scope for a public awareness campaign to try and reduce the stigma and promote self-help ?

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks Tim
      Lots has happened since this campaign was launched nationally and many hospitals have adopted this. Please feel free to download and distribute the supporting material.
      All the best.
      Amit Arora

  7. jacqueline Williams says:

    great to read the article, it would be brilliant to share some of the good practice across our trusts.

  8. brian barnes says:

    I would like to distribute leaflets on deconditioning to my local neighbourhood watch partners who are aware of many older people.

    Reconditioning. Yes a lot of truth in. “Its all in the mind”

  9. Mona Sood says:

    A great article and valuable resources, thank you for sharing.

    Reconditioning is incredibly important but seems not to have the same therapeutic potency in the public’s mind as “bedrest”. The information leaflet produced explains its benefits clearly, this work deserves the widest audience.

  10. Kassander says:

    on a most heartening article, and what’s more, you include practical examples of what you and your team are doing – which very few do.
    Of course, the sting IS in the tail:
    “This may cost more in the short term, but with major long term societal health gains.”
    Despite NHS England supposedly being an arm’s length type organization, political doctrine is forcing down expenditure in the short term for long-term political gain.
    Such a scenario does not bode well for an effective roll-out of your excellent and life-enhancing initiative.
    However, I will be downloading your:
    “banners, posters, screensavers, information leaflets, exercise programmes, videos and demonstrations to raise awareness”
    and promoting their display and implementation where I can.
    After all, as the man said “We’re all in this together.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks Kassander
      Please feel free to download and use the materials. Staff are generally willing to do this as they do realize it is the right thing to do and that it is everyone’s job.
      All the best.
      Amit Arora