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Exercises aging people love

by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief

Most everyone knows that an active lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle. However, as people age and diseases such arthritis, strokes and dementia take their toll, it's easy to let any kind of exercise slide. Finding an exercise an elder can love is often a challenge, but if an effort is made to know the elder's personality, and enough variety is offered, there is usually something that works.

Exercise: Finding What They Love

Have you ever been in a nursing home during daily activities and seen the leader tossing a beach ball to each elder, in turn? The residents sit in their wheelchairs, many with puzzled looks, as the ball gently floats in their direction. Some understand what they are supposed to do with the ball, and listlessly catch the ball and toss it back. Others just look puzzled.

Granted, tossing a ball is better than not doing anything. But if we want our elders to get the exercise they need to keep arthritic joints from freezing up and their blood moving about, we need to tempt them with exercise they can enjoy.

Alternatives to Traditional Facility Exercise

I'm not against ball tossing, but what about dancing? Even wheelchair dancing could be fun for many elders. The people with walkers can use those for balance as they move to music. I believe that more facilities should have warm water pools, like many YMCA programs offer.

Therapeutic warm water exercise is wonderful for arthritis, and because it feels so good it can often convince even the most resistant elder that exercise helps their arthritic joints.

Exercise, Technology, and New Exercise Ideas

Technology has helped families and facility directors find activities for their elders. The Wii game system is used for many games, but a favorite of many seniors is Wii bowling. I know of assisted living centers that have formed leagues using Wii bowling. This allows for the competitive spirit and gets the senior to exercise without the stress (or physical impossibility) of actual bowling.

The idea is to find something the elder enjoys. It's human to be willing to do something you enjoy, but resist that which you don't. As with all person centered care, this means finding out something about the individual. Maybe they hate bowling but would love playing drums with a virtual drum set. Maybe they are still active enough for some gentle yoga, or able to use gym equipment under the direction of a physical therapist.

Every assisted living center and nursing home typically has elders with a variety of abilities and interests. When the staff takes the time to get to know the elder, and perhaps questions the family as well, there is generally a way that some type of exercise the senior will enjoy can be introduced into their routine.

One size fits all is a rule that doesn't work in elder care. And exercise is no exception.