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June 24, 2017
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Lack of activity threatens local seniors’ independence

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
May 19, 2017

Fear of frailty is a big concern for local seniors as well as their caregivers. Medical professionals describe frailty as a syndrome of weakness, fatigue and decline in physical activity.  And it can rob seniors of their independence. 

For some, frailty results from a heart attack or stroke.  Another senior might experience falls and weight loss. Interestingly, what often leads to frailty is the lack of motivation and the ability to stay active.  As it turns out, inactivity is also a big worry for seniors and family caregivers.  According to results of Home Instead Senior Care’s recent national survey of seniors and grown children, staying physically active was listed as a major challenge for older adults.

We regularly see seniors who are literally trapped in their homes because they are too weak to remain safe and independent, or to even enjoy life.  That’s why staying active is viewed by so many as vital to healthy aging. 

A recent national survey conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network found that:

 

•74 percent of seniors 65 and older say that staying

physically active is a major challenge.

•81 percent of adult caregivers listed staying physically

active as a top challenge for seniors.

•90 percent of seniors in the survey say their greatest fear is

loss of independence.

 

Frailty can be difficult to define, but most know it when they see it, said the expert who helped us develop this program – Dr. Stephanie Studenski.  She is one of the nation’s foremost authorities and researchers of mobility, balance disorders and falls in older adults.  Dr. Studenski currently serves as director of clinical research for the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging.  

Dr. Studenski and her colleagues conducted a series of focus groups with health care providers and family caregivers about how they view frailty.  She said that many family members base frailty on social and psychological changes they see in their loved ones.  Doctors, on the other hand, focus on the physical evidence. She said it’s important to look at all factors – social, psychological and physical.  

Most important, Dr. Studenski said that frailty can be both prevented and reversed by activity.  That’s why Home Instead Senior Care developed the Get Mom Moving Activity Cards and Web site at www.getmommoving.com.  These resources are designed to help keep seniors engaged and fit.  The tools provide the resources by which seniors can fight frailty. 

The activities have been listed in three categories: mind, body and soul.  All are important to helping seniors age well.  Here’s one of the mind activities:    

 

Change direction

 If a senior has a regular route through the grocery store or to the mailbox, he or she may want to try a different way.  Research has revealed that such a technique exercises the brain.  Or, if an older adult can’t leave the house, help a senior break a routine. Drink tea in the afternoon instead of coffee in the morning.  If he reads the newspaper in the morning and watches television in the afternoon, suggest that he try switching that around.  Make a note of what she likes and doesn’t like about the new order.

While she is going about her day, ask your mom to use her opposite hand to open doors and brush her teeth.  Or suggest to dad he wear his watch on the opposite wrist.  These activities will help their brains re-think daily tasks.

 

The warning signs

There are also warning signs that family caregivers and senior care professionals can observe to indicate whether an older adult is becoming more or less frail.

 

Change

If a senior has always been interested in talking to the neighbors, reading the newspaper or volunteering and is withdrawing from those interests, suggest she see a doctor.

Inactivity.  If a senior suddenly becomes less active, investigate what could be the cause.

Slowing down.  If that senior always used to have a bounce in his step and now, suddenly, trudges along, that’s a bad sign.  

Loss of appetite and weight.  A senior who always had a healthy appetite and doesn’t any more should be of concern to their loved ones.

Unsteadiness.  Loss of balance comes with aging, but an increasing unsteadiness is a sign that something could be wrong.

Seniors have fears as well – issues that make them worried about losing their independence.  This topic is at the heart of the concerns that we see each day in the lives of seniors and those who care for them.  Fear of frailty keeps seniors worried about whether they can stay home.  Following are the fears, in descending order of importance to seniors, according to our survey:

Senior Fear Factors

1.     Loss of independence.

2.     Declining health.

3.     Running out of money.

4.     Not being able to live at home.

5.     Death of a spouse or another family member.

6.     Inability to manage their own activities of daily living.

7.     Not being able to drive.

8.     Isolation or loneliness.

9.     Strangers caring for them.

10 . Fear of falling or hurting themselves.

Education is the greatest defense against fear.  So is support.  In a very real way, family caregivers and senior care professionals can encourage older loved ones, helping them stay healthy.  And that addresses seniors’ biggest fear of losing their independence.  To find out how you can help keep a senior active, contact Home Instead Senior Care for the free Get Mom Moving Activity Cards: “Activities for the Mind Body and Soul.”

These resources really should provide the information needed to revitalize the activities of seniors.  The good news is that family caregivers and senior care professionals can head off trouble by helping keep seniors on the move. 

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.