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November 25, 2011 > Sedentary Seniors: Engage the Mind, then the Muscles

Sedentary Seniors: Engage the Mind, then the Muscles

When Paul's widowed mother turned 96, both her son and daughter-in-law ended up spoiling the birthday celebration by nagging the honored guest to get more exercise and lose weight. Likewise, Mary worried that her 97-year-old mom was not moving enough. Mary zeroed in on the fact that, after making her daily cup of herbal tea, her mother would shuffle to a favorite chair and spend the morning hours sitting and listening to progressive talk radio - all the while ignoring her mother's unwavering passion for social justice.

Adult children like Paul and Mary often bring their worries about sedentary parents to Jill Cabeceiras, client care manager of Home Care Assistance Oakland. "At age 96 or 97," Cabeceiras observed, "if your nonagenarian mother is getting out of bed, getting dressed, walking to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, then turning on the TV and viewing the screen, she is far ahead of the game."

Cabeceiras has been working with aging adults for 15 years as both a senior care professional and volunteer, including making exercise house calls to those aging at home and in assisted living facilities. Her personal refrain when it comes to caring for aging seniors: meet them where they are.

Engagement Comes First:

First, children and friends need to dial back expectations when it comes to the physical prowess of aging seniors whose bodies - and ability to move, cook or see - are declining. Sitting in front of the television is a safe solution if balanced with other daily activities.

"Rather than coax homebound seniors away from 'Wheel of Fortune,' sit and talk to them where they are - not where you think they should be," Cabeceiras said. "And if you, as the family caregiver, can't be there during the day send a companion, friend, caregiver or volunteer to engage them in conversations that are meaningful to them."

Daily social interactions - not just physical exercise - are crucial to the well-being of seniors. In fact, the more interactions aging adults have with the outside world the healthier and happier they will be.

Cabeceiras recalls a Home Care Assistance client - a widower who didn't want anyone living with him and had his own special reasons for avoiding exercise. It took some convincing, but eventually the man agreed to try out a caregiver who would cook meals and join him in conversation for a few hours each day.

"After a while he loved her!" Cabeceiras said. "In fact, the client confided to our caregiver that he'd had a car accident and didn't want family members to know. She immediately made an appointment with his doctor. By having their daily exchanges during a meal, the two bonded and our caregiver became his confidante."

Cabeceiras advises those with aging parents or friends to plan a variety of simple, life affirming-activities like playing dominoes or gin rummy, or asking them what they think of "Occupy Wall Street."

And, she noted, after engaging the mind, it is easier to engage the muscles with simple movements that can be done from the comfort of a favorite chair - exercises such as lifting and straightening one leg then switching to the other repeatedly to improve circulation, or manipulating stress balls to ease the pain in arthritic hands.

"Or you can turn on Frank Sinatra and just move to the music together," Cabeceiras said. "But if mom doesn't want to dance to 'Summer Wind,' invite her to sit outside for 15 minutes a day. Small acts of caring can make a big difference!"

Jill Cabeceiras will present a seminar on "Keeping it Simple with Seniors" on Wednesday, Nov. 30, from 12 noon to 1 p.m. at the Silliman Center, 6800 Mowry Ave. in Newark. For more information and to register, call Home Care Assistance Oakland at (510) 763-1576.

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