Keeping Active

A Senior Helpers caregiver and client show off their exercise program. Photo courtesy of Senior Helpers

It sounds like common sense, but sometimes common sense takes a lot of effort, says Mike Gianino of Homewatch Caregivers St. Louis. Staying active as you get older will improve your quality of life, but many seniors aren’t incorporating good habits like diet and exercise into their daily routines. “I’m not reinventing the wheel if I tell you that when a doctor prescribes something, you have to take the right medications at the right time,” he says. “But it’s easy to lose focus, and if you don’t do certain things at that stage of your life, you start to deteriorate.” 

    Homewatch Caregivers provides nonmedical in-home care, with the help of a registered nurse who will work to create a plan of care that follows recommendations made by the client’s physician. Gianino says there are three main areas caregivers focus on: healthy diet, medication reminders and physical activity. “If any one of those three falls out of balance, it really affects the other two, and the client deteriorates,” he says.

    The goal is to add to the client’s quality of life by bridging the gap between what they need to do to remain independent, and what they can’t do for themselves anymore. “You don’t know it until you see their daily routines. Maybe they’re not eating properly, or they don’t take their medications at the right time,” Gianino notes. “You can easily get into some bad habits. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve entered a situation where the client is stagnant.”

    Eugene Davis, of Senior Helpers in Webster Groves, another nonmedical in-home care provider, says the primary concern for many of his clients is fear of falling. “We do a lot of fall prevention,” he says. Ironically, lack of exercise actually creates a greater risk of falling, he adds. “Conditioning them to get up and moving is a large part of the battle,” Davis says. “There are lots of ways to get them motivated to do that.”

    The winter creates added obstacles for those hoping to become more active, Gianino says. “Not only is it 30 degrees, there may be black ice. If your bones are brittle and you’re vulnerable, you don’t want to go outside.” He says an alternative is to make the house safe—be certain there are no rugs that are dangerously placed and that there are clear channels to walk—and use that space for exercise and walking. Exercises at the sink or using a chair can be just as effective as walking outside on a sunny day, Gianino adds. “They’re simple things, but critical nonetheless,” he says.

    Davis says that starting with your current capabilities and building up is key. Talk with a physician before starting a new exercise routine, which can be incorporated into the plan of care. “Start out small, maybe 10 minutes at a time, a couple of times per week. You can use cans as weights for conditioning and start using those muscles again.” A lot of families start out by getting a treadmill or stationary bike, which Davis says can be very helpful. Other clients will clear an area and walk figure eights in the kitchen. “Before, they were lying in bed the whole time and stiffening up,” he notes. “It’s about trying something; not just sitting there and doing nothing.”

    The results can be amazing, Davis adds. “We’ve had clients whose family thought they were near the end, and after trying these exercises they can walk again; they regain mobility that they didn’t have.”  LN