Most of us make New Year’s resolutions for ourselves that involve some aspect of a healthier lifestyle, including weight loss, better food choices, more sleep and regular exercise. Whether we keep them or not often depends on how dramatic the changes are that we’ve vowed to make, especially when it comes to exercise. Joining a gym and going every day vs. taking a daily 15-minute walk is an example. Alzheimer’s and dementia are not an inevitable part of normal aging, and a little exercise might help keep them at bay, or delay the progression, several new studies suggest.
Starting with small changes is often the best indicator of success, and experts tell us that even these “baby steps” can improve our brain and body function now and in the future. The same strategy can be true for our elderly loved ones or clients. Even a little more exercise can improve brain and body function and even emotional health. Then the question becomes, “How can we help them to see the benefits and get moving?” [For more about safe exercises for seniors, see our blog “Seniors Benefit from Safe, Regular Exercise”
“Try it. You’ll like it!” can apply to everything from a new food to becoming more active. If you can get your loved one or the person you care for to try adding more activity to their days, they might be able to see for themselves that they feel better and want to do more.
Take a walk: It might be something as simple as asking them to take a walk with you. Set your pace to theirs and help them make goals that can be expanded as strength increases. If you can’t be there every day, ask neighbors or other family members to take turns being the walking buddy. Walking is a weight-bearing aerobic exercise that an elderly person can do at his or her own pace. It can help to build bones and slow osteoporosis. And, by walking with another person or a group of people, an elderly person enjoys social interactions, too.
An elderly friend of mine had a daily schedule of “walking buddies” who helped her get herself and her walker down the 2 steps from her back door to the driveway. She felt much better when on a good day she could walk up the sidewalk just 4 houses, 8 total when she counted coming back, with her buddy-of-the-day walking beside her to be sure she was safe. Just getting out in the fresh air, even in cold weather, was something she hated to miss, and she was very proud of herself every time she could reach her goal.
Join a Group: If they are able, encourage your elderly person to join group or a spa that includes both exercise and socialization. Programs are available through community centers, hospitals and religious organizations. Activities might include yoga, dance, water aerobics or even breathing and relaxation exercises. Some classes teach modified exercises that almost anyone can do. Being part of a group can provide just enough peer pressure to keep attendance regular and enjoyment high.
Consult a Doctor: Some elderly people are afraid to exercise because they believe a health condition prevents them from doing it safely. They fear they might fall or be unable to complete the exercise that has been suggested. These fears can be alleviated by consulting a doctor. Once an elderly person gets the OK from their doctor, they can begin a program with confidence.
A doctor might be able to prescribe specific types of exercise that will be both beneficial and preventative. For example, a person with heart or circulation problems could work with a cardiologist. Someone with arthritis might be guided to an instructor who can work within the person’s limited range of motion. “My Doctor told me it will make me feel better if I do this” can be a powerful and safe motivator.
In-Home Physical Therapy: With a doctor’s prescription, some elderly people qualify for in-home physical therapy. There might be a limit to the number of times the therapist can come, or therapy might continue only for as long as the patient is making progress. For some elderly people, liking the therapist means everything when it comes to doing what’s prescribed.
Provide a Distraction: Many simple, at-home exercises can be done in front of the TV or with music in the background, providing a distraction that makes the time go by more quickly. During a TV show, your loved one could perform exercises for a short period while seated, with lengthy rests in between each exercise. Creating a playlist of favorite music or recording favorite TV shows for replay during exercise periods might change a person’s mindset from “This is something I have to do,” to This is something I look forward to doing.”
Start Simple with a Goal and a Reward: If your loved one has any level of dementia, they might be unable to start activities on their own or remember the prescribed movements. Try to be aware of times during the day when you can encourage them to do simple exercises or just to move from one place to another with you beside them to ensure they are safe. With simple exercises, if they are able to mimic your movements and don’t have to remember what to do, any activity will be more enjoyable. If they are resistant, offer a reward as simple as a star on an exercise chart, a favorite food or something else they love to do, when they complete what you’ve asked them to do.
Mix It Up: Each person’s personality, health and cognitive abilities are different. In addition to professional advice from a doctor, it might take some experimenting to find the type and amount of exercise that that your elderly person can and will do. You might have more success if you very the length and time of a variety of activities. Remember, any amount of exercise is good, no matter how small. If you exercise along with them, it will benefit you, too.
Dakota Home Care Can Help: If you can’t always be there to encourage and help your loved one to exercise or perform other health-promoting daily activities, someone from Dakota Home Care’s professional staff can help. We work with the client, family, home care staff and your physician to provide and implement an individualized plan of care that can include safe, supervised, in-home activities for increased movement. Call us today at (701) 663-5373 to schedule an in-home evaluation. A registered nurse will determine what we can do to help keep home a healthy option for someone in your family.