Senior living advertises a relaxing image of the golden years. All your needs are met – you barely have to lift a finger! But could all this inactivity actually be harmful to senior’s health? Are we “over-caring” in a way that is not in the resident’s best interest? An article in Forbes explores this theory as a “recipe for declining function, worsening health and potentially death.” As senior living providers, it is important for us to find the right balance.
A few years ago I worked with a team to develop Brookdale’s B-Fit program. We based the program on the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine that include aerobic exercise, strength training, stretching, and balance exercises. When the program was introduced some people expressed concern about the residents doing balance exercises because of the risk of falling. But there’s the rub. In order to improve or maintain balance, it must be challenged. The same is true for strength training; you must stress muscles to keep them strong.
You can sum up the research on physical well-being with one word…MOVE! The saying is true, move it or lose it. But the truth is that when a person moves into an assisted living community many of the things that help to keep them functional are removed. There is no more housework, stairs, or uneven ground in the form of a yard. And while some of those things might have been too much of a challenge, equally challenging is the inactivity that can follow a move to assisted living.
The need for challenge applies to all dimensions of life, not just exercise. Challenge leads to resilience and resilience leads to improved quality of life. In the words of healthy aging expert Kay Van Norman, “If resilient individuals suddenly find themselves in environments where people do everything for them, they’ll likely stop flexing that resilience muscle…To fight that we need to consistently support independent decision-making and autonomy, which enable people to take charge in the face of a challenge...”
Those of us who work in senior living mean well when we help a resident do things that maybe they could do themselves, or when we limit some activity in the name of safety. It comes down to the balance between our desire for residents to be safe and the need for them to engage in challenging activity that helps them to stay as healthy as possible.
So I have a message to three audiences:
- Those who live in assisted living-keep challenging yourself to MOVE and to live boldly, taking on new challenges and focusing on what you can do.
- Those who have a loved one in assisted living-support the idea of balancing safety and challenge so that your loved one can live as full a life as possible.
- Those who work in assisted living-keep in the mind that you are there to support well-being and be mindful that you don’t “over care” by doing things that residents are capable of doing for themselves.
All of us have a stake in helping our elders live their Optimum Life. I am glad to be on this journey with all of you!
Be Well on Purpose!