How you can keep the elderly mobile and active

If you love your aging parents, don't hug them...make them do squats!

As a sports chiropractor, I spend about 20 % of my time in an aged care facility.  It's actually one of the highlights of my week.  For reasons that escape me, i'm really effective in this setting.  Essentially, I treat the elderly like I would any of my patients. We emphasize functional movements so that they can maintain their activities of daily living.  

FALLS PREVENTION

A few years ago, a group of researchers came out with a series of fall prevention exercises, the Otago Exercise program.  This is a useful program, however, it's a little too long winded in my opinion.  A good program should be simple and to the point, and promote function.

SQUATS

Squats are a great exercise, one that is essential for living.  You may find the scenario as featured above, where your loved one is able to perform a functional squat, however, they remain somewhere along a continuum from functional but poor (first example) to functional and effective (second example).  But you may also be in a situation where your parents or aging loved ones can no longer perform a squat.  

Your first practical aim:

  1. Maintain and improve their current squatting ability
  2. Improve their limited squat to the point where they are able to perform independent squats.

In the centre I work in, many of the seniors are rehabilitating from falls, stroke and other comorbidities.  They are in a bad way.  Let me assure you, it's possible that they recover.  I have helped rehabilitate several patients.  As soon as possible, I aim to get them back to squatting, either on their own or with some limited aid.

Why squatting?  Well, without the ability to squat, toileting becomes an issue.  This is an undignified part of aging, as a person becomes reliant upon a machine to hoist them on and off of a chair, seat, bed or toilet.  

 So, I aim to quickly build strength with my elderly patients through modified squats.  In this exercise, the elderly person starts seated in a chair, takes hold of your hands, and pulls themselves to a standing position.  

Explain to the person that you want them to build leg strength.  They are using their arms to help aid themselves up, however, their legs need to take the brunt of the weight.  When returning to a seated position, have them go down slow and controlled.  This builds strength more quickly.

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TIPS

  1. Start simply, stay positive.  Some will only be able to perform 3 or 5 of these in a row, others more.
  2. Do not pull on the elderly person.  The object here is to interact with your loved one.  You want them to do the work.  They should be able to pull if need be, and you will need to offer a sturdy base for them to pull themselves up.  If you are unable to offer a sturdy base, find a fixed point that is secure, like a rail, so that they can pull themselves up.   
  3. To make the exercise easier, add a cushion to the chair to raise the person higher.
  4. To make the exercise more difficult, put the person into a lower chair.  Also, performing the exercise while standing on a soft surface, like a rubber mat or thick cushion, will bring increased strength gains faster.
  5. Offer encouragement.  Count the exercise out loud, and when the person begins to struggle, enthusiastically say something like, "Come on, keep going!"  It helps!
  6. Keep track of progress.  They will quickly report that getting in and out of a chair is easier, show improved confidence, and be willing to try other exercises.
  7. Perform these regularly.  At each visit, aim to get some exercise in with your parents.  If you have children, teach them to interact with their grandparents in a way that promotes exercise.  It's more loving than a hug, and can be accomplished with only a few minutes of effort.   

GOALS FOR YOURSELF

  1. What is your current fitness like?  How deeply can you squat, and how many can you perform?  
  2. While you may have to spend time with your parents rehabilitating them, it's much simpler to maintain the ability to squat then to relearn it.  Therefore, start squatting today.
  3. Just do it.  Although there can be some truth to improving the mechanics of squatting, don't let this prevent you from starting.  All exercise is beneficial.  
  4. Here is a great site, Fitness Blender, with a worthy challenge.  Add this to your pre dinner routine, it might be the best appetizer you ever have.