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Using Motion to Spark Joy in Care

As a regular visitor to my father’s long-term care center, I couldn’t help but notice that numerous residents remained slouched in their wheelchairs and were more withdrawn. Care home staff explained that, due to their reduced physical and mental capabilities, these seniors had declined to the point of not being able to move as well as others and could not readily participate in activities.

It was a sad picture. I knew that Dad would dislike using a wheelchair (and his dementia would result in confusion and possible agitation about being possibly strapped into the chair), so I vowed to help care home workers to keep him moving – for as long as I could.

Although Alzheimer’s disease was robbing Dad of his memories, he remained in good physical health. Dad was always an avid walker, so walking became our activity of choice together. Warm summer days led us outside. Depending on Dad’s energy level, we could either stroll around the block or hike a longer river valley trail. In the winter, we looped around inside the facility. As recommended, I strapped a support belt around Dad’s waist – something I could hold onto should he start to wobble or grab if he tripped. While I didn’t stray far from Dad’s side on our outings, I was pleased to see that the belt wasn’t needed and that he often kept up a good pace.

7 Ways to Use Motion to Spark Joy for Seniors and Caregivers

Granted, choosing activities for older adults may be difficult. Your loved one may have lessened abilities, understanding, energy, and even – perhaps – desire to move and remain active. There are many exciting ways to incorporate productive motion into their daily care plan and reduce time simply sitting in front of a television. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Join a Walking Club. If your older loved one is able to — a walking club can provide healthy socialization for seniors. A botanical garden, a lake, or a nature trail is an excellent addition to a walking route. These locations will offer beautiful scenery, possible wildlife or bird sightings, and benches for resting, if needed (just watch for more possible tripping hazards on a natural trail). Gentle hills can provide more exercise. For further motivation, a walking club could join a charity walk together and be encouraged by supporting a good cause.
  2. Go swimming. Swimming provides great exercise for the entire body and good cardio as well. Head to a pool to either swim laps or enjoy a water aerobics class. After a swim, take a dip in the hot tub or relax in the sauna.
  3. Practice yoga. Yoga is perfect for seniors as it provides a gentle means to improve posture, balance, and coordination. If you or your loved one cannot sit on a yoga mat on the floor, try these chair exercises to increase strength and balance.
  4. Lift weights. This exercise doesn’t have to be extreme! You can use lighter (two or three-pound) weights for safe strength training. Seniors lifting light weights may find doing this deceiving, as it may not feel effective. Even with light weights, exercise can be overdone. Go slowly to avoid injury.
  5. Go on field trips. Remember how much fun field trips were when you were back in school? Getting out can be greatly enjoyable and valuable at any age. Go to a museum, the zoo, or a baseball game. Long-term care homes may have a bus or van and welcome family caregivers along on their community field trips.
  6. Register for an art class. Try to incorporate simple and engaging crafts. Whether it’s pottery, painting, or knitting/quilting, certain creative pursuits can increase dexterity in senior fingers, which may not get much regular movement.
  7. Play with grandchildren. Bending over and lifting young children or following them around at a playground can be so much fun that seniors may not even realize they are being more active, improving balance, and getting a workout!

The Benefits of Exercise for Seniors

Simply put, regular movement will keep a senior’s body and mind moving. Here are several, more specific, advantages of exercise for seniors:

  • Prevention of Disease. Maintaining regular physical activity can build a stronger body and immune system to help fight against many common diseases such as osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
  • Increased Strength. Exercising helps maintain and build muscles.
  • Improved Mental Health. Regular exercise also keeps the brain’s wheels turning. Your older loved one will have clearer thinking, better concentration, and improved focus.
  • Fall Prevention. As seniors age, they become more unsteady on their feet. With safe exercise, a senior can build strength and improve balance.
  • Better Flexibility. Regular stretching can result in being better able to bend, lean over, and reach for items.
  • Social Engagement. Outdoor group activities with proper social distancing are encouraged. By exercising with others, seniors can enjoy the social interaction while building their strength.
  • Improved quality of life. Incorporating exercise into one’s life leads to greater levels of happiness and energy.
  • Reduced stress. Exercise is a great way to calm down. Exercising produces endorphins within the body, which help a person feel relaxed.

Keeping older adults moving will help their body, mind, and spirit – and that’s a good reason to keep them active for as long as possible!


About the Author(s)

As a former co-caregiver, Rick Lauber helped and supported his own aging parents. His mother had Parkinson's and Leukemia and his father had Alzheimer's. Rick learned that caregiving is challenging and used writing to personally cope.

His stories became two books, Caregiver's Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver's Guide.

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