May 8th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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Elders, caregivers need to keep moving

by Dorian Martin

Dad fell three times over a 24-hour period in mid-February, then fell again in early March. Fortunately, he didn’t break any bones, but he did experience a loss of confidence about his physical abilities. Because of his falls, I ended up being bound to the house, leaving only for errands such as grocery shopping and picking up an occasional take-out meal.

Luckily, Dad had a previously scheduled appointment with the nurse practitioner at the pain management clinic a few days after his last fall. Dad talked about the falls with the nurse practitioner, who made an offer for a referral to physical therapy. I asked, “What did you say?” Dad responded, “I told him I’d think about it.”

My reply was quick and to the point: “What is there to think about?” So after nagging Dad a few times to call for the referral and then to actually contact the physical therapy office, we finally got him signed up.

A body in motion stays in motion

We got a shock after the initial evaluation, when the physical therapist told Dad that he was less than 50 percent as far as his physical capabilities.

Physical therapy sessions were scheduled twice a week over a three-week period at the clinic. By the end of most of these 45-minute sessions, Dad was so exhausted that I had to help him into a wheelchair and push him to the building’s front door. Yet he kept going to therapy. By the last session, Dad’s physical capacity had jumped markedly (and he didn’t ask for the wheelchair at the end of the session).

Now that Dad’s better and I’m no longer tied to the house, it’s time to rebuild my own physical endurance. I purchased a wristband that works with a smartphone app to gauge the amount of activity I do each day, as well as the quality and length of each night’s sleep. It’s been interesting to get the daily report. A “typical” day around the house when I needed to stay at home because of Dad resulted in about 3,000 steps, which is far less than the 10,000 steps that most experts recommend. Now I’ve started a walking regimen that is getting up to 9,000 steps daily.

Accountability can help us keep moving

The moral of this story is that both elders and caregivers need to keep moving — otherwise, we could set ourselves up for physical decline. And while we may think we’re staying active, having some form of accountability — whether a physical therapist, a personal trainer or a high-tech device — can help open our eyes to what we are (and aren’t) doing.

And in case we lose our motivation, there are those scary statistics on the risks of bone fractures: breaking a hip could double a woman’s risk of mortality. I hope you’ll take a look at my other blog post about research on preventing falls. Sue Lanza has also written up some guidelines for helping elders avoid falls.

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