Stay Active in Old Age

Admittedly, active lifestyles are pretty rare in the elderly population these days, but they are on the rise.  People are discovering how much better their quality of life can be if they remain as active as possible and deal with health issues as they arise instead of letting them debilitate them before dealing with them.  Activity in old age, however, does not look like activity did in our 20s.  We are no longer able to do many of the same workout routines, or even daily chores that we once did.  You can evaluate any exercise advice through the scope of your age and with a physical therapist’s help to ensure that you are not taking unnecessary risks to your body, but for most people, your body will let you know how much activity is too much.  If you have an injury or are recovering from an injury, be sure to get clearance before starting any routine.

Let’s start with the basics.  Much of our mobility or immobility depends upon the core of our bodies being fit.  If the core is not fit, we try to use other parts of our body to compensate for that.  In old age, it gets increasingly difficult to fight against gravity because we tend to have less muscle mass.  Working on keeping our core & spine intact will go a long way to improving our health and give us less pain.  One simple starting place for strengthening your core, especially if you notice that your posture is less than ideal is to force yourself to sit at a table or desk, upright and with your feet flat on the floor.  Make sure your shoulders are back.  You may notice that this stretches your clavicle (collarbone) region.   Do this several times a day during regular meals, writing letters, etc & hold the posture for a couple of minutes each time.  It seems so simple, but is quite effective.  If you notice when you’re sitting, that you have the urge to brace your feet against the chair, or cross your legs, or lean sideways, your body is compensating for a weak core.  Consciously do this simple exercise until you are consistently sitting upright without fatigue.

At one time there was a class on TV called, “Sit And Be Fit”.  I do not think it is aired regularly anymore, but there are various fitness programs available online for elderly people that have exercises done while seated, to reduce the risk of injury.  Check into these and be sure you follow the instructions closely.

Regular activity is the most important thing to keep an active lifestyle.  You’ve heard the scientific law, “objects in motion stay in motion”?  It is the same for adults.  If you stay active, you will keep staying active.  This is easier if you have an external reason to stay active, if you have someone else to care for, if you have a job to do, etc.  It’s a part of why we also recommend volunteering and social engagements as a part of a healthy lifestyle.  If you have no reason to get out of bed in the morning, or off the recliner in the afternoon, it is much more challenging to talk yourself into moving from those positions.

Mobility is a huge issue.  If you have limited mobility, be sure that you’re doing everything that you can within what your doctor has said is safe for you to do.  Don’t ever do less than that, or your mobility could worsen.   Household tasks like dishes, vacuuming, dusting, & light gardening in a raised bed are all wonderful for keeping you moving.  Think of them as dual-purpose and it might help motivate you a bit more!  If you’re in a wheelchair, see which things you can safely do for yourself.  If you’re not in a wheelchair, keep fighting to stay out of one!

Regular movement and bits of resistance for your muscles improve your muscle mass over time, and it also increases the density in your bones, improves circulation and lung capacity.  I cannot emphasize how important it is for you to remain active even as you may feel that you’ve finally earned a break!  I know it’s tempting, but you’re not only doing this for yourself.  You’re showing the next generation what old age can look like!  You’re showing them how to age gracefully!  You’re showing them how to make the most of life until it ends, and they are going to need that to push through the situations that they are struggling with right now and as they age.  Your active lifestyle can be an inspiration to those around you & will increase your health and happiness along the way!



Stroke & Heart Attack; What You Need to Know

Stroke and Heart attack are among some of the leading causes of death in our country.  Though they are looming threats, it’s amazing how many people still do not know the warning signs to look for, or what to do if they suspect one of these major health events.  This may be due to our unwillingness to admit to our own mortality, or simply because you’ve never taken the time to adequately understand the implications of not knowing.  Either way, it’s always good to be prepared, even if you can’t control every outcome in life.  You could do a great deal of good for another human being if you know the signs of these life threats and what to do if you suspect them.

We’ll start with a heart attack, which is known medically as a myocardial infarction.  In bygone eras, if a person had a heart attack most likely meant that the person was going to pass away.  Now, however, with the advance of technology and more understanding of the heart muscle & how it interacts with the rest of the body, many people recover and go on to live healthy, long lives!  It is worth knowing and looking for the signs of heart attack so you’ll be prepared to call for help if you or a loved one should need it in the future.

Heart attacks generally present with some sort of pain in the chest that radiates down the left arm especially.  But do not be fooled into looking only at this as an indicator.  Shortness of breath, as if the person cannot get enough oxygen, and cold sweats are other indicators in almost everyone.  Some differences may be found in the ways that men and women experience heart attacks.  Myocardial infarctions in women are sometimes less pronounced in acute pain and more extreme in discomfort.  The female patient may feel nauseous.  She may also feel the pain closer to her stomach or in her back as this is located close to the heart.  Additionally, she may feel pain in her jaw and neck, dizziness or extreme fatigue.   Regardless of gender, people generally will present with pain, cold sweats and shortness of breath.  If you experience any of these symptoms, seek help immediately.

What can they do for a person who is having a heart attack?  They will most likely perform surgery which has the goal of opening whichever artery is closed. The sooner this occurs, the better.  If it occurs quickly, there are better chances of more of the heart muscle being saved and operational.  Obviously, the more of the muscle that is saved, the better life quality and recovery will be from that point forward.  Recovery is possible.  There may be lifestyle modifications, such as dietary changes or daily medications, but recovery is possible.

A person experiencing a stroke has a completely different list of criteria to look for than a heart attack, even though they MAY both be caused by blockages of blood flow (there are several different possible causes for both). Whereas a myocardial infarction affects the heart, a stroke affects the brain.

The end goal with a patient experiencing stroke is the same as one experiencing a heart attack, get help IMMEDIATELY!  The faster they are in, the less damage to the brain & the greater chance of recovery.  The brain needs oxygen in order to function properly.  If it is not able to reach all areas of the brain because a blockage or a hemorrhage, the parts of the brain that are closest to the disturbed area will begin to die off first. In stroke patients, every single minute matters for recovery.  If the patient is diagnosed and operated on quickly, however, they may well be able to recover and live full, productive lives.

Signs of a stroke are a sudden paralysis or limpness of a part of the body, like an arm, leg or face.  If this occurs on only one side of the body, it is a high indicator. If the person has sudden problems with speaking or with their vision or is suddenly confused it can be another indicator. Also, if someone has a sudden onset of difficulty with walking or balance.  If this has occurred, even if it passes and the person goes back to normal, please get it checked out immediately.  If a stroke has occurred, it is more likely to occur again.  A doctor is the only one who can say if it has happened and if it would be worse next time.  They’d also be able to decide whether surgery is necessary and if medication is recommended to prevent further episodes.

These things are scary to think about, but if you know how to identify when it’s time to call for help, you can greatly increase the chances of survival and recovery for the person you’re helping, even if that person is you!