Aging in place: the impact of balance and strength

Balance and Strength

Too often, when thinking about aging in place, all we think about is the condition of the home.  Ensuring that one’s casa is conducive to aging in place is a big part of any approach, but we also have to think about the physical condition of our seniors as well.  Assuming one’s mental facilities are sufficient for (semi-)independent living, a modicum of bodily strength and balance is also a key ingredient of any effort to support aging in place.

What happened to me?

When I first relocated back to Connecticut for my 90+ year old mom, I was utterly exhausted, barely able to get out of bed in the morning, and wondering what was wrong with me.  Upon discussing this with my new primary care physician, he pointed out that (amongst other things) I was “deconditioned” and needed to increase my physical activity to improve my energy level.  How could this be?  I had once been an avid equestrienne and managed a large family equestrian facility while working full time and raising a family.   Didn’t that count for something?  Apparently that had allowed me to coast for a bit; in fact it had been several years since the sale of the facility and I hadn’t done more than walk the dogs around the block in some time.  Willing to try anything to feel better, I started cardio and yoga classes at our local Y (http://www.newcanaanymca.org/).

Much better now!

Fast forward to a year later.  I’d like to say that all my aches and pains and exhaustion disappeared – some of that is still with me.  But my balance and core strength are significantly increased, as is my awareness, thanks to my excellent trainer Deb Wagner (http://www.newcanaanymca.org/y-honors-exceptional-staff-members/), as to just how important these things are to conducting daily activities safely – and to reduce the risk of falling.  Let’s face it – you need all those muscles, from your biceps to your glutes, to catch yourself if something causes you to stumble – uneven footing, tripping over the dogs (a common hazard in our house), going up and down the stairs.  You also need them to help get yourself back up if you do fall.  You even need those glutes to get on and especially off of a standard-height toilet, or to properly bend down to pick up an item off the floor.  You need range of motion to be able to safely reach kitchen shelves.   And alas, keeping these muscles in some kind of shape doesn’t happen by itself.

Keep moving!

I don’t want my mother to fall – and as an aging Boomer myself, I’m not wild about the idea for myself either.  My increased awareness of my own balance issues has led me to be aware of hers; after consulting with my trainer, she is now in a regular course of exercising specifically targeted to improve her balance and strength, which also has a side benefit of improving her posture and range of motion.  We do it together, in short sessions sprinkled throughout the day, and we keep it light and fun.   I cannot recommend this enough to all of my clients.  So please consider the role of some kind of physical activity for your seniors, and/or yourself; any and everything you can do to reduce the odds of a fall will improve the likelihood that they will be aging in place successfully.  I hope to retain what I’ve learned into my dotage, so that I can make sure that I too can reach and bend and stand up straight, and find myself safely aging in place too someday.

Liz and Mom exercising – up to 8 lifts per set!

Working on our lats!

NASMM Annual Conference 2017

A quick recap of the takeaways from my attendance at the NASMM Annual Conference (National Association of Senior Move Managers), held March 9 – 12 in Indianapolis. I arrived not knowing a soul, and came back with lots of contacts, new friends, and most importantly, tons of useful information that will help me serving seniors, and to better provide peace of mind to them and their families. The theme was “Exceeding Expectations”, and that it did. Some highlights:

    • The full day continuing education pre-conference session on hoarding, hosted by none other than Matt Paxton, of A&E “Hoarders” fame.  Chock full of emotional case studies and eye-opening pictures, his message came through loud and clear: hoarding is a disease like alcoholism and addiction, and empathy, trust and being non-judgemental is key to working with these individuals.  There is always a reason behind hoarding, usually tied to grief, and that reason is what starts them down this path.
    • Discussions on dividing and selling clients’ stuff.   Check out https://www.fairsplit.com/ for an app to help you and your family fairly divide treasures amongst yourselves, with reduced stress and emotions.  Set your clients’ expectations up front: with few exceptions (mid-century modern furniture comes to mind), most furniture and lower-end artwork/collectibles return little of their original value, regardless of what they originally cost.  Next Avenue had a great article on this recently which was one of their most viewed ever: http://www.nextavenue.org/nobody-wants-parents-stuff
    • At last, high-tech aging in place gadgets are becoming more mainstream.  One can now find functional smoke detectors, electrical outlets and clocks in addition to doorbells – at Home Depot no less, and of course online – that contain cameras with Wi-Fi connections, so that concerned family members can monitor their seniors from afar and make sure they’re ok; such devices also allow users to detect elder abuse or fraud, and keep an eye on caregiver activities.  CAVEAT: you should discuss this with your senior(s) and obtain permission before installing such items.  On a less controversial note, I learned about a special hand-held device called a “GrandPad” (https://www.grandpad.net/), which allows non-tech-savvy seniors to easily make video calls and send emails to and from a specified list of users, as well as to view photos, take pictures, listen to favorite music etc.

That’s it for now – be safe!