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Wellness Programs Can Help Seniors Build Back Strength

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By Jeannie Hannan MS, HFD (Health Fitness Director), and Ph.D. candidate, Home Instead Center for Successful Aging

Holiday gatherings when Mom is still trying to play hostess after recovering from an illness and Dad is struggling to be the life of the party, even as his dementia is worsening, often highlight an older adult’s frailties more so than any other times of the year. Even families of healthy older adults could begin to see changes from year to year.

Some of what’s happening can be attributed to the effects of aging such as a loss of balance, muscle strength and flexibility. A lot of seniors deal with conditions that make standing for long hours baking and cooking more difficult. Other seniors experience an inability to recognize pain.

That’s why building back strength can be so important. I would suggest developing an individualized fitness program, if the doctor approves. Many seniors have more than one chronic condition and are dealing with osteoporosis and arthritis, which can make moving more difficult. Strength exercises can be good for arthritis sufferers, helping them strengthen their muscles to do the work again.

Many seniors also prefer exercising with other older adults – at least that’s what those seniors who come to EngAge Wellness, located in the Home Instead Center for Successful Aging, tell us. We focus on whole person wellness – incorporating social, physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional and vocational.

Diet is another way to help keep older adults on track. Everything in moderation, as they say.

It’s important for those who might be preparing a holiday meal to keep their senior family members’ dietary needs in mind. Look for salt substitutes and ways to replace higher-fat ingredients with more healthy alternatives.

For example, some cake recipes allow replacing butter with a healthy option, such as applesauce, or using sugar substitutes or sugar-free ingredients. One popular brownie recipe even calls for using the healthy high-fiber option of black beans—just don’t tell guests what they’re eating if you think they might not find such an ingredient appetizing.

Finally, learn from your senior loved one, and his or her doctor, the warning signs that could indicate trouble. If an older adult is diabetic, watch for the signs that would mean blood sugar is too high or too low. If Mom has congestive heart failure, look for swelling in the feet and possible trouble breathing.

Exercise and wellness are just as important for busy family caregivers. I’d recommend a program for caregivers, too, along with participating in a class like Tai Chi to relieve stress. Practicing wellness leading up to and during the holidays can help make the new year brighter for both seniors and caregivers.

The Home Instead Center for Successful Aging represents a new model of care that encompasses the expertise of care providers from across the spectrum including geriatric medicine, geriatric psychiatry, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, exercise science, and whole person wellness. Providing education and preventive care is an important component of the center. The center includes research in its care mission with a focus on promoting independence and aging in place.

Last revised: September 28, 2012

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