Friday, June 09, 2017

Helping Seniors With Limited Mobility

Like so many other areas of health and wellness, limited mobility is not just a physical issue. Instead, mind, body, and spirit all need to work together.

Obviously, if age, injury, illness, or some combination of the three has made it difficult for a person to move around, there are physical challenges to overcome. At the same time, frustration over the condition and a fear of losing independence often set in as well. Stresses like these trigger cortisol production, and since this stress hormone usually makes the situation worse, a downward spiral may begin.

Here are some ways you can address all these areas and truly help parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends, and any other mobility-impaired people in your life.

Start Slow

It’s very natural to encourage Mom to take a walk in the park with you, because it is so sunny and warm outside. However, Mom may simply not be able to take that walk. If she’s been living with mobility impairment for quite some time, her sedentary body cannot handle that level of activity right away. On the opposite end of the scale, if Mom just started using a cane, she probably does not have enough self-confidence for a walk in the park.

Start with a walk through the house. Next week, walk next door to see the neighbors, and the next week, try a jaunt around the block. An approach like this one builds up inactive muscles and shows reluctant minds that it is possible to walk again.

Moreover, be very patient, because there will most probably be days when Mom does not want to get out of her chair.

Play Nintendo Wii

Several recent studies, including one in the Journal of Aging Research and one from the American Physical Therapy Association, suggest that mobility-impaired seniors often lose their sense of balance, largely because of their inactivity. Wii games like bowling, tennis, and baseball help restore that sensation, thus improving mobility. Spend a little extra on the Wii Fit, because it has even more balance games.

In addition to the physical benefits, seniors quickly learn that getting up and moving around is fun. That addresses both the immobility blues and accompanying self-confidence issues.

Low Impact Exercises

Once Dad is up and moving again, and feeling a little better about himself, it’s probably time to take the next step and set him up in a senior exercise group. Once again, expect considerable resistance to this step, because it’s never easy for people to get out of their comfort zones.

Most local YMCAs have senior water aerobics classes, and many yoga studios hold classes just for senior beginners.

On top of the physical activity he gets, Dad will benefit from the social interaction with other mobility-impaired seniors, thus addressing the mind and body issues that these seniors deal with.

Medical Alert Device

Now, it may be time to take the next step towards mobility independence, but there’s a big problem.

Some of us have flashed a smile when we saw those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials (or maybe I’m just talking to myself), but falls are very, very serious. Each year, 1.8 million seniors are treated in emergency rooms after falls, and about 15,000 a year die after falling. These statistics are very frightening for both seniors and caregivers.

A medical alert device relieves these fears to a considerable extent. A senior knows that help is just a button-push away. Some newer models even have sensors that automatically go off when the wearer falls. At the same time, caregivers have peace of mind.

Independence Devices

How can you help mobility-impaired seniors have the tools they need to live independently and not end up in a scene like this one?

First of all, focus on what he needs, and not on what you need. Second, be attentive to those needs. For example, if Dad is having problems getting his shoes on, surprise him with a shoe horn for disabled people. Third, take things slow. There may be a time and place for a conversation about an assisted living facility, but disrupting newly-found independence is a bad idea.

For everyone involved, a plan that takes into account the mental and physical aspects of mobility impairment is much more likely to succeed than sporadic and well-intentioned attempts to “help” the person.

This is a guest blog entry.

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