When it comes to our bodies, we tend to have a predominantly reactionary approach to caring for ourselves. When we get a headache we drink more water. When we have back pain we stretch our muscles, and after a fall or injury, we do exercises or go to physical therapy. Often the same exercises and strength training used for rehabilitation can be highly effective in preventing injury for seniors in the first place. Instead of focusing on rehab during a recovery process, if we reversed the order and applied the same techniques in a regular exercise routine, you get something like, “prehab”. By preemptively focusing our attention on the body’s strength, flexibility, balance, bone and joint health, we can invest our energy in building resilience instead of recovery.
Regular exercise stereotypically is a tedious task that many Americans pass over in their weekly routines and this habit can be detrimental to the body as it ages. There is a trend among seniors of finding more interesting ways of getting in exercise and finding a community of accountability and support while doing it. Here are just a few ideas to get you moving before a fall or injury:
Tai Chi: This ancient Chinese practice uses slow controlled movements to strengthen the body. The exercise includes full body movements that help seniors decrease blood pressure and stress, increase stability and muscle strength, increase body awareness and better gauge where they are in relationship to the ground and their surroundings.
Social Dance: Especially for generations where dance was an important part of social life, taking a dance class for seniors can be a great way to increase coordination and balance. A class setting provides a good balance of regularity and variety. When there is music playing, the body knows what to do as we tap our feet and move to the beat. Encouraging memories of old songs can be a great way to create connection.
Bosu or Physio Ball: Found at many community centers, physical therapy offices, or gyms, these inflated balls are a wonderful tool for building up muscles that help with stability especially in the ankles and core stomach muscles. It is important to have a trainer show seniors how to use these tools safely to reach their goals.
Physical Therapy: The American Physical Therapy Association has a wonderful online resource called Move Forward to help seniors know the risks of falling and take charge of their independence. All physical therapists are trained to be able to work with individuals in wide range of ages who are looking to improve their balance and strength and can tailor exercises to meet unique goals. They also have an online directory to help you find a physical therapist in your local area. While we may assume that we can only seek out a physical therapist after an injury, this professional service can be an important preventative tool in our arsenal to reduce the risk of falls before they happen.
Accidents happen. As humans, we are prone to them and many YouTube videos have been dedicated to this tendency. However, as we age both the risk of a fall and the risk of injury as a result of a fall can escalate fear in aging adults. Ironically, what can often be more debilitating than a fall itself is a fear of a fall. According to the CDC, “One out of three older adults (those aged sixty five or older) falls each year, but less than half talk to their healthcare providers about it." Older adults can often limit their physical activity and social engagements for fear of falling. And if they do experience a fall, fear can keep them from reporting it to a loved one or healthcare provider. While these instincts serve to protect themselves, it actually increases the risks through atrophy of muscles and mindset.
Fear has been turned into the acronym: False Evidence Appearing Real. In the case of aging adults, the fear of leaving the house is fuelled by the idea of falling. When that image of a particular reality becomes real for aging adults, the problem isn’t the tendency to avoid the situation it is the method. When we avoid a fall through inaction, it limits the body and keeps the mind fearful. When we avoid a fall through action and activiy, we are given physical and mental independence.
If you are concerned that your aging loved one is at risk for a fall or is avoiding injury through isolation or inactivity, in-home caregiving services are a great option for care. The theme in all our activity examples above is a sense of companionship and community around exercise. In-home caregivers can provide the companionship, motivation, and activity coordination to help seniors maintain an appropriate level of activity and mobility. As Certified Nursing Assistants trained to reduce fall risks, they assist aging adults in maintaining safety within their home and out in their community. Give us a call today to see how in-home care can help your loved one reduce the risk of falls and increase their quality of life.
Published on September 2, 2014.