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Anyone experienced rehabbing a sedentary elderly person back to mobility?

By April 22, 2009 - 11:33am
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I'm not a therapist, but I know exercise (lifelong practitioner); I just don't know it for a weakened person. I'm going to be working with a woman of 84, diabetic and with a mild heart condition. She's actually quite healthy but has been allowed to spend all her time sitting or lying down. She can shuffle along with her walker for short distances, but she's heading for true invalidism if she doesn't get turned around. That will be bad for everybody, but especially for her.

Any advice, experience, tips, success stories, horror stories, source recs, etc. would be most welcome.

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Here is what I suggest for someone that age who will benefit mostly from gaining flexibility vice endurance. Tai Chi is a healing art well-known among the elder in China. I suggest checking your local senior recreational center to see if there are any offering for this exercise modality. If not, then you can buy a DVD that offers a beginner level Tai Chi and she can use it at home. There are other gentle movements in yoga that most sedentary people can practice. The health benefits of both, yoga and Tai Chi are medically documented. Elderly people also enjoy gentle dancing movements. It does not matter what type, just make it fun for her.

April 24, 2009 - 1:15pm
EmpowHER Guest

Hey! Good job! I use resistance tubes/chords or bands with people who are terribly deconditioned. Even the lightest resistance can help build up some strength when used well, and slowly. Test it out with her, and you can do a lot with it. Just slowly see what she can and can't do, range of motion with arms, etc. and take your time with her. Even really light stretches help, and deep breathing. Again, take your time since she hasn't done anything. As for the "mercy", you may have to cut her some to start with! Being too frail can cause easy sprains, pulls and breaks!! What we see as practically nothing, many need to work towards! So don't push too hard! Build the foundation, but listen to her if she hurts. Just take time...not everyone is as strong as you are. Good job staying young and fit! Take care!

April 24, 2009 - 1:12pm

Thanks for your reply. It codified a lot of my rambling thoughts on the issue and was very helpful.
The situation is this:
I rent a room in the house of a man who is bringing his sedentary 84 year-old mother to live here in September. He and I are both appalled at the condition she has been allowed to sink into, and I'm determined to put her back on her feet. She isn't really sick, and she isn't overweight (small mercies) but she's just terribly out of shape.
Working with her will offset part of my rent, and having her stronger will benefit everyone who cares for her and maybe give her back some kind of life.
No one is more convinced or aware than me of the critical part exercise has in maintaining health. When this lady arrives in September I'll be looking at my 79th birthday, so the poor-frail-little-old-lady excuse isn't going to cut her any mercy from me.

April 22, 2009 - 2:05pm
EmpowHER Guest

My grandmother is 86 and she has found that riding an exercise bike has really helped her energy level and overall health.

April 22, 2009 - 12:46pm
HERWriter Guide

Hi Silkpjs (great name!)

Thanks for your question and for finding EmpowHer.

Will you be working with this woman in her home? Or is she in an assisted living or nursing care environment?

While working with an elderly population, we were always taught the 'use or lose it' rule, which is a reality. When a person, any person, is allowed to remain in chairs, watching television - or automatically placed in wheelchairs, as is the case in many state run institutions, they will simply stop being able to walk. Daily exercise is important in old age. It doesn't have to be hitting the gym - simple ball tosses (which also helps with eye/hand coordination) using a parachute to stretch, or an easy going walk for 10-15 minutes can really improve an older person's life and longevity. A person in a wheelchair can easily take an exercise class.

I very much agree with you that she will become an invalid if she doesn't take more exercise and get more active. And honestly, a person in their 80s with no serious health issues can have a wonderful life. My aunt is 82, still flies around in her Mercedes coup, takes long, brisk walks daily and keeps her grandchildren for weeks at a time, to help her children out. She maintains her own home and vacations annually. 80 isn't old anymore!

You don't have to be a therapist or a personal trainer to help her.

- Encourage a short walk at least twice a day. Once in the morning and once later on in the day. Make the walks slightly longer as time goes by.
- Exercise with her. Turn on some music and get the blood flowing. Toss a ball back and forth. Raise legs up and down, same with arms. Stop and repeat.
-Can she swim? There are senior swims in many rec centers and she may be able to go for free. A few slow, gentle laps every day would be wonderful for her. Is swimming is not for her, she can do water aerobics especially geared for older people. They are slow paced, low impact and a good way to incorporate some social connections.
-She can lift some really light weights, even while sitting down. 1 or 2 pound weights will strengthen her arms.

Just make sure she talks to her doctor before making any big changes in her lifestyle.

You can also contact her local school system. They run senior centers and senior activities that incorporate physical exercise. Most are free of charge or have low fees. Her local Senior Services will also have a lot of information or activities available for someone of her age and physical health. Her doctor's office will also have this information and will be able to give her (or you) the names and contact information for the many senior centers and organizations there are in her area. The AARP may also be able to help.

Her mental health will also benefit for all these places. Libraries also have special activities for seniors that will keep her brain ticking, along with her body and you can provide her with crosswords and newspapers to maintain her cognition and her interest in her surroundings. Discussing current events with her will also help.

Even if she doesn't want to travel anywhere, some daily walking and mental exercises at home will work wonders.

She is certainly a candidate for turning her life around a little bit. No-one is expecting her to start running marathons or anything of the sort, but a little physical and mental exercise every day will do her the world of good. If the weather is good, hopefully she can get outside for a while and get some Vitamin D in her system, and her melatonin boosted.

Thank you so much for caring enough to ask these questions. This lady in lucky to have you! I'm not quite sure in what capacity you will be working with her. As a daily caregiver - helping with ADLs (activities of daily living) or in some form of nursing?

April 22, 2009 - 12:05pm
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