Inactivity: The Mistake That Costs Everyone
Two years ago, Betty was suffering from spinal stenosis; which caused pain when she stood up and walked. Her doctor advised her how to take NSAIDs for relief and prescribed a couple of easy exercises she could do at home to build up her back muscles along with swimming to increase endurance. But Betty only took the pills and neglected the work. Soon she was wheelchair bound. After in-patient rehab where she declined to participate, Betty was admitted to a nursing facility where she died sixteen months later.
Betty’s family thought she was lazy and just didn’t want to do the exercises, but that probably wasn’t the reason. Perhaps she was afraid that the activity would cause her more pain or she would fall or that the exercise would injure her further. Or maybe she suffered from depression. Whatever the source of her resistance, no one could get through to Betty with enough information that would motivate her; even though it would have reduced her pain and even saved her life. Talking seldom works.
Worth the Effort
Many caregivers are severely tested when it comes to getting their loved ones off their butts and into a physical activity. Everyone understands the benefits of an exercise regimen. However, when it involves convincing an elderly couch potato that they must increase their heart rate and breathe more deeply, the battle often becomes overwhelming. Caregivers often give up just to keep peace in the family. Giving up isn’t the answer and neither is an argument.
Benefits of Exercise (Including for those with dementia)
- Increased muscle strength and flexibility allow for longer independence
- Reduces the risk of getting certain types of cancer, diabetes, stroke and heart disease
- Improves cognition, mood, self-esteem and confidence
- Helps prevent falls and improves sleep
Caregivers understand it’s importance – but where do they begin and how can they “make” someone get-up-and-move? If you are in this situation and have been frustrated because of it, give some of our suggestions a try. But first, make sure you and their primary care physician (PCP) are on the same page about their abilities and limitations – including if it would be best to exercise alone or in a group setting. For example, COPD patients are particularly susceptible to many life-threatening respiratory infections and diseases in other organs. Their PCP’s advice about group activities will be influenced by circumstances such as the length of time since the last exacerbation, how fragile they are, how easily they contract diseases etc.
Where to Start
Just as Tom Sawyer convinced his friends that whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence wasn’t work but fun and desirable, you can find ways to make exercise something that isn’t an obligation but enjoyable or challenging. All it takes is some creative thinking. Suppose you want to get your mom to do more walking but she isn’t interested. Ask yourself why you want her to walk. Could some other activity produce the same results you’re looking for? What might mom be willing to do if she weren’t on the couch?
Did she enjoy something a long time ago but gave it up? Maybe she enjoyed dancing with your dad. Would she be willing to dance a little with you? Don’t guess the answer and don’t just ask her outright or she’ll tell you she doesn’t feel like it. Find the kind of music she liked to dance to and play it from the radio or internet – after a while, ask her to dance. Let her know that just rocking slowly to the music is dancing.
If you have a garden but mom won’t have anything to do with gardening any longer, find something a little challenging about it and ask her advice. Would she show you? Once there, test the waters to see if she would do more. If you can get her to start spending time outdoors, the battle is won.
Adult Day Center
One of the main reasons for having your mom attend an adult day center is so she can maintain her social skills. Nothing destroys the mental and emotional life of a person more than being alone or having limited contact with the “outside world”. There are many other benefits but nothing gets people moving like being with others who move. All centers have programs to keep your loved one active, if only through seated exercises.
You get the idea. Exercise doesn’t mean formal and boring. Active people live longer, have more friends and enjoy a better overall quality of life. They are better at fighting disease and when they do “catch a cold” it is not as uncomfortable; nor does it last as long as with sedentary people. Their attitude is much better as well – which clearly benefits the caregiver. The amount of time you spend now to make exercise a part of your loved one’s daily routine will pay dividends for years to come. And once activity becomes a habit, the effort to maintain it is minimal.