Helpful tips and exercises for seniors to remain healthy and in their own homes as long as possible
As an occupational therapist, I have worked in the hospital and in rehabilitation settings for nearly ten years. I have helped many people recover from falls, surgeries, or other debilitating diagnoses including strokes and heart attacks. In healthcare, there are recurring themes that I have seen. People want to be healthy, have a good quality of life and remain in their own homes as long as possible.
As people age, health status changes, support systems change, and physical abilities change. With these changes, oftentimes, modifications to your home and lifestyle may need to change in order to make staying in one's own home as safe as possible. This can be overwhelming and many times people do not know where to start or are afraid that modifications will be costly. In fact, there are many things that one can do in order to remain in their home as long as possible.
The most important, and often overlooked, thing one can do is regularly attend your annual physical and have a good relationship with your primary doctor. Be your own advocate and if something doesn’t seem right, speak up! Maintaining your prescriptions and keeping track of your medications is another important factor in staying healthy. Fill your prescriptions and take your medication according to the doctor's orders- keeping track of the timing of medications is just as important and there are many things in place to help one do so. Investing in a pill box, setting an alarm on your phone for when to take medications, or having a family member or friend double checking how the pill box is filled also ensures accuracy. If you are having trouble affording medications, talk with your doctor or pharmacist and see if there are alternative medications or other resources, coupons etc. A good doctor will help you find alternatives, they want you to take a medication that can help you rather than know you are taking nothing at all.
It is no surprise that regular exercise is important in staying healthy and keeping active. What are some exercises that don’t require equipment or a lot of time to complete that can be helpful and beneficial? Using small hand weights or even soup cans/water bottles ( they weigh about 1 pound) and completing bicep curls or raising them above your head are simple ways to keep your upper body in shape. Walking, bicycle riding, or swimming are ways to get your cardio workout. Some simple exercises for balance and lower body strength are using a counter or chair for support and completing squats, standing on your tiptoes and rocking back onto your heels, and lifting your leg out to the side and then backwards will keep your legs strong. These are all exercises that therapists use to help build strength, endurance and balance.
Bicep Curls: Start with your arm at your side. Bend at your elbow to raise your forearm/hand upwards as shown. Then return to starting position and repeat.
Shoulder Flexion: Hold a hand weight in front of you with palms facing down. Raise the weight up to about shoulder height or slightly higher if able.
Toe Raises: In a standing position with your feet on the ground, raise up your toes and forefoot as you bend at your ankle. Lower back down and repeat.
Hip Abduction: While standing next to a chair or counter top for support, raise your leg out to the side. Keep your knee straight and maintain your toes pointed forward as best as you can. Then, lower your leg back down and repeat. Use your arms for balance support if needed for balance and safety.
Hip Flexion/Marching: While standing next to a chair or countertop for support, march in place by lifting your knee up as you allow it to bend. Lower back down and then perform on your other side. Repeat this alternating movement.
Hip Extension: While standing, stand on one leg and move your other leg in a backward direction. Do not swing the leg. Perform smooth and controlled movements.
TANDEM STANCE WITH SUPPORT
Stand next to a chair, table or counter top and hold on to it for support and safety. Place the heel of one of your feet so that it is touching the toes of your other foot. Maintain your balance in this position.
FEET TOGETHER STANCE - EYES CLOSED
Stand tall and with feet together next to a table or other sturdy object. With feet together and arms crossed over your chest hold and balance in this position...then, close your eyes. Try and hold this position with eyes closed as best you can.
SINGLE LEG STANCE
Cross your arms over your chest and then stand on one leg. Perform this next to a table or other sturdy object. Hold your balance in this position.
Despite one’s best efforts and following all the rules of exercising, and eating well, sometimes there are things out of one's control that require modifications to their home environment. I have been in dozens of homes and there are certain guidelines that everyone can follow to make their home safe. First, if your doctor or physical therapist recommends you use a walker, cane or other mobility device- use it! Therapists and doctors want you to be safe and there is a reason that it is being suggested. With that being said, whether or not you use a device, you should remove throw rugs or make sure all of the ends are secured to the floor. Keep all of your pathways clear and free of clutter or furniture, cords and any other tripping hazards. Ensure you have adequate lighting throughout your home and/or using night lights in order to see clearly in low lighting. Using furniture that is sturdy and not too low to the ground, and has arm rests can help to make standing up and sitting down easier and less of a struggle.
Technology can be an effective way to increase safety in your home as well. Use of pendants that monitor falls such as Lifeline or Life Alert, or even using a smartwatch that can detect a fall, heart rate or decrease in oxygen saturations are good ways to monitor your health and safety in the event there was a medical emergency and no one is there to assist. Smart devices like Amazon’s Alexa can be a good way to set reminders, make phone calls, adjust lighting, make lists.
There are also a wide variety of durable medical equipment available to make bathrooms and other rooms in your home safer with things like shower chairs, elevated toilet seats, bed rails etc. The number one place people have falls is in the bathroom so ensuring that room is safe and set up to reduce falls is essential. Purchasing equipment for the bathroom or around your home can be done through Amazon, Walmart, Menard’s and our local Hometown Pharmacy. There are also several loan closets in the area that provide equipment at no cost at all including Society's Assets, the Lion’s Club, and the ADRC.
When in doubt, talk with your family, friends or doctor if you have any concerns about remaining in your home for as long as possible. Talking with a social worker through the hospital or reaching out to the local ADRC ( Aging and Disability Resource Center) can help determine what resources are available including having assistance in the home or other financial programs that may not be known. A doctor can provide you with a prescription for physical and/or occupational therapy services. These professionals are trained to work with you to set goals and find ways for you to achieve them based on your current abilities, difficulties and resources available to you. They can assist with increasing your strength and balance in order to prevent falls and injuries. Oftentimes, therapists can complete home evaluations and provide you with a customized plan and recommendations to make your home as safe as possible.
Elizabeth Olley, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, Neuro Advantage Rehabilitation