In-Home Care Supports Active Independence for Seniors
These days, we seldom read an article about healthy living that doesn't include a reminder about the importance of exercise. Exercise benefits our hearts, lungs, muscles, bones and brains. It also reduces the risk of many health problems, from diabetes to arthritis to Alzheimer's disease.
The Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported on a major study on activity and disability. The study authors noted, "Reduced mobility is common in older adults and is an independent risk factor for illness, hospitalization, disability and death." They found that seniors who take part in a moderate-intensity physical activity program are much less likely to experience major disability.
So, as we see, the old days when seniors were advised to retire to their rocking chairs are over! Gerontologists now recommend a fitness program that includes aerobic, muscle-strengthening, flexibility and balance-training exercises. Almost every senior can benefit from a safe, individualized exercise program.
Yet the sad fact is, just at the point when exercise is more important than ever, seniors face increased challenges to maintaining a fitness regimen. Physical, cognitive and sensory limitations tempt older adults to take it easy and adopt a couch potato lifestyle ... leading to a dangerous cycle of decline. Inactivity causes loss of muscle tone, shortness of breath and perhaps weight gain—all of which lead to even more inactivity and further decline in health.
Home Care Can Help
For seniors who are living with chronic illness, or who are recovering from the effects of a stroke, hip surgery or other health event, in-home care services can be the key ingredient for overcoming obstacles to activity. Today, more patients are receiving skilled rehabilitation at home. And at a lower cost, nonmedical in-home caregivers provide many services to help seniors overcome barriers to fitness:
Transportation—A person who is recovering from injury, illness or surgery most likely can't drive to physical therapy appointments. Seniors living with chronic illness likewise may have had to give up the car keys. In-home caregivers provide transportation to physical therapy sessions, to exercise classes at the senior center or gym, and also to incidental outings such as grocery shopping or a walk in the park that provide extra exercise. Every little bit helps!
Confidence—When a person is recovering from the effects of an injury, or has arthritis, sensory impairment, osteoporosis or memory loss, exercising can seem like a daunting prospect! "What if I fall? What if I get lost? How will I get down the front steps?" The presence of a caregiver provides the assurance that help will be there if it is needed. And caregivers also provide housekeeping services, including removing clutter that could cause a fall.
Encouragement—When it comes to exercise, we can all use a little nudge to get us going. In-home caregivers remind clients about their exercise schedule. They help get ready for the workout by setting up equipment such as weights, an exercise mat or chair. If clients are exercising to a workout video, the caregiver can help them operate the DVD or VHS player.
Companionship—For most of us, exercising is more fun when we're not by ourselves. Professional home care agencies match clients with a compatible caregiver. Interacting with the caregiver also reduces loneliness and depression.
Dementia support—When a client has Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder, exercise helps lessen some of the troubling behavior changes that are typical of the disease, such as sleep disturbances, agitation and depression. Professional in-home caregivers help these clients take part in appropriate physical activity, and ensure that they are safe in both the home and outdoor environment.
Choosing the Right Caregiver
This is an instance when it's so important to work with a reputable agency that provides training for their caregivers. Professionally trained caregivers know how to safely support a client's activity program—and they also have been trained not to attempt tasks that should only be done by the client's doctor, rehabilitation therapist or other healthcare professional.
In-home care can be provided on an ongoing basis, or temporarily while a client is rehabilitating after hospitalization. In-home care is a valuable supplement to informal care provided by family and friends, allowing these family members to go about their business knowing their loved one is as safe and active as possible.
Watch a video about the University of Florida study on exercise and mobility that was highlighted in the above-mentioned Journal of the American Medical Association article.
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