Get Moving keeps seniors active

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Health-care professionals know about the frustration experienced by seniors when they can’t get around as they once did. With our aging population and the fact that Boomers themselves are now turning 60, the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle has never been more important.

I have seen the results of an inactive lifestyle during my years as a nurse in geriatrics and rehab medicine in two Kingston, Ontario hospitals. I also spent 10 years as a rehab nurse and charge nurse in North Carolina, where it was more of the same.

Our society has a problem with lack of fitness and obesity, but seniors are the ones who suffer the most from inactivity. Inactivity can lead to a downward spiral of poor health resulting in frailty, which according to many experts, is a condition that threatens the mind, body and social life of older adults. This is why Home Instead Senior Care, which provides caregiving and personal-care services for seniors at home and in care facilities, including hospitals, is conducting a nation-wide, public-awareness program. It’s designed to help keep seniors engaged and fit, and to fight frailty arising from inactivity. The program includes a website (www.getmommoving.com) with useful information, an Activity Calendar for seniors to keep track of how they’re moving to a more active lifestyle, and Activity Cards with suggestions for the mind (memory drills), body (simple exercises), and soul (ideas for social recreation). The activity cards are an aid that family caregivers and care professionals can use to help keep seniors active.

Today, as a home-care provider, I often see seniors who are trapped in their homes because they are too weak to perform regular activities that keep them independent. One senior had to be hospitalized for a condition and quickly went downhill due to staying in bed. A nurse may walk the patient down the hall and a physiotherapist may provide a few minutes a day, but when the person in the next bed is in cardiac arrest, that obviously becomes the priority. On the other hand, if the patient has a caregiver with them, it can help.

Staying active is a prerequisite for healthy aging, but for many families, addressing this is a challenge because it may involve an abrupt change in lifestyle.

Home Instead Senior Care recently conducted a national survey of Canadian seniors aged 65 and up, and found that the top future fears for this group are maintaining independence and staying physically active. Such things as managing finances, eating a healthy diet and keeping socially engaged, while important, were further down the list.

In the survey, being active also correlated to a significant ‘happiness’ factor for both seniors and their caregivers. Of seniors surveyed, 93 per cent said their biggest source of happiness was being able to get around as they choose, and 89 per cent said it stemmed from remaining active. The survey was conducted online with 358 seniors aged 65 and over, and with 407 adult caregivers aged 35-62, along with a telephone survey of Home Instead Senior Care clients and care recipients.

Adult caregivers who took part in the survey were of a similar bent: when asked about the biggest challenges facing the seniors they look after, helping them maintain their independence and helping them stay physically active were numbers one and two. When asked what made their seniors ‘happy,’ 92 per cent said it was being able to get around as they choose. This was tied with maintaining good health and spending time with family, and ranked ahead of financial security, living independently, and spending time with friends.

The survey also asked seniors for advice they might give themselves if they were 20 years younger. Many of their comments had to do with getting more exercise and staying active, and not waiting until retirement to do it.

In January, the Alzheimer Society of Canada released a study called Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia in Canada. Recognizing the urgent need to start turning the tide of dementia, it described four potential intervention scenarios to help combat the dilemma; one was to increase physical activity. Yes, even for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In a women’s study released last year, researchers at Columbia and Johns Hopkins Universities discovered the important role that activity plays in the fight against frailty. They found that frailty is the result of a systems failure in older adults (women aged 70-79), rather than a specific problem, disease or age. Fully one-half of the ‘fragile’ seniors group had three or more systems at abnormal levels, compared with 25 per cent of the ‘pre-frail’ group and 16 per cent of the ‘non-frail’ group. The physiological factors assessed included anemia, inflammation and fine motor skills.

Health-care professionals should always be watching for signs of frailty among seniors. But they should also encourage them to remain active. Think of it as an investment.