Exercise should no longer be a dirty word for seniors. At one time, exercise was judged to be too dangerous, too vigorous for older adults due to frailty and/or fear of being injured by exercise. However, a number of well-conducted studies over the last several years have shown that a variety of exercises are not only safe for older adults but have enormous advantages. In fact, staying active can help you:
Keep and improve your strength so you can stay independent.
Have more energy to do the things you want to do.
Improve your balance.
Prevent or delay some diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Perk up your mood and help reduce depression.
To get all of the benefits of physical activity, try the four types of exercise:
Endurance: Be sure to get at least 30 minutes of activity that makes you breathe hard on most or all days of the week. That’s called an endurance activity because it builds your energy or “staying power.” You don’t have to be active for 30 minutes all at once. Ten minutes at a time is fine. Just make sure you are active for a total of 30 minutes most days. How hard do you need to push yourself? If you can talk without any trouble at all, you are not working hard enough. If you can’t talk at all, it’s too hard.
Strength: Strength exercises build muscles. When you have strong muscles, you can get up from a chair by yourself, you can lift your grandchildren, and you can walk through the park. You are less likely to fall when your leg and hip muscles are strong. Strengthening exercises involve providing resistance to your muscles. This can be done with weights or using your body weight, such as push-ups, squats, and sit-ups.
Balance: Balance training allows us to prevent or delay the use of assistive devices for walking and to prevent falls. Balance activities can be incorporated into your strength exercises. Squats and lunges can be progressed from hanging on to a counter or bar to not hanging on to anything.
Flexibility: Stretching can help you be more flexible. Moving more freely will make it easier for you to reach down to tie your shoes or look over your shoulder when you back the car out of your driveway. Stretch when your muscles are warmed up. Don’t stretch so far that it hurts.
You are more likely to keep up an exercise program if you are doing activities that you enjoy. So, no more excuses find an activity or activities that interests you and start working them into your schedule! Remember, your physical and occupational therapists are great resources for starting an exercise program.
For people age 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of injury-related fatality. At least a fifth of those that fall have moderate to severe effects, including head trauma, spinal cord injury, and fractures. All falls are maddeningly unpredictable and usually occur in familiar surroundings. The single greatest prediction of a future fall is a past one. The chances of recovery are complicated by the fact that an elderly person who has had a fall may restrict daily tasks in order to avoid another one.
Recent studies have revealed that Vitamin D deficiency is becoming a recognized risk factor for falls in older adults. It is currently being recommended that older adults who are housebound or inactive due to physical limitations should take Vitamin D supplements.
The 4 proven strategies for preventing falls include:
Participating in a specialized exercise program that addresses balance and gait disturbances. Studies have shown that personalized exercise programs reduce falls by 20%.
Assessment of home hazards, such as removal of throw rugs and clutter, diminishes risk by 10-15%.
Careful review of medications by your physician and/or pharmacist is also recommended since some medications may cause light-headedness and/or lethargy which may contribute to a fall.
A thorough vision examination is also imperative.
A physical therapist can assist a person in assessing their fall risk and work towards reducing that risk by determining an appropriate exercise program that addresses balance and gait disturbances. Physical and Occupational therapists can also assist with home safety assessments to determine home hazards and assist with problem solving to decrease these hazards and reduce the risk for falls in the home.
As a health care professional for the past 15+ years I’ve always felt pretty confident I could find a good doctor, pharmacist, caregiver, physical therapist, or nurse if the time ever came that I needed one…especially in a crisis. I was recently put on the caregiver side of the health care equation – nothing earth shattering, but my son broke his leg and it came with a unique set of circumstances. Lost dreams of a summer soccer season, bike riding and swimming with friends, and a choir trip to Alaska were all things that suddenly seemed very much shattered. As his mom and caregiver I found myself wondering about all these things and a hundred others. I was squarely in a situation that was out of my control to direct. We were at the mercy of whatever orthopedic doctor the scheduler assigned to us.
I imagine this is how family members feel when a senior in crisis is referred to a nursing home for rehab or to a home care agency for on-going care. How do I know I’m going to like the person that is assigned to me? Will they take enough time for me? Will they answer my questions? Are they any good at what they do? Do they provide quality care? How do I know that what they are telling me is correct? How do I know what I don’t know?
What happened next on our broken leg journey was nothing short of anxiety inducing. The doctor we saw didn’t have time for us, he couldn’t relate to my son, and looked at me like I was crazy when I asked about pain control. We left his office without any instructions on my son’s restrictions or care. We also left with newfound gratitude for my profession as an occupational therapist; we would have been totally lost otherwise. What I realized after the shock of the appointment wore off was this: a broken bone had become routine to this doctor. It was a mechanical issue that needed repair – there was no passion for the care of the patient. To my son and our family a broken bone was anything other than routine; it was a loss of some short-term hopes and dreams. This is no different for a senior who sustains a fall, has a heart attack, or develops dementia – plans are changed, dreams are shattered, lives are disrupted…that IS NOT routine. How do you find an individual provider or senior care agency that will help you compensate, adapt, and be compassionate around these issues?