A more active lifestyle for people with Alzheimer’s

February 11, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

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“It’s terribly lonely here,” said Mrs. Watson the other day. “There’s lots going on, but it’s very lonely.”

Actually, I haven’t yet seen much going on in her nursing home, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Their schedule shows activities every day, which theoretically means that its residents have a more active social life than I do.

Activities every day, but people live every hour, every minute. What is Mrs. Watson supposed to do during the long hours between activities? She can still read her Bible, so she does that. But reading provides limited exercise.

When I moved in with my 95-year-old grandmother, she was accustomed to being babied. And she hated it. Nobody expects much of the very elderly. Nobody gives them chores to do, or even asks them for advice much. Nobody has enough extra time to spend very much of it with the very elderly. Nobody expects them to walk very far, or lift very much. If they sleep most of the day, nobody is surprised.

But, when it comes down to it, who’s really having it easy? The elderly person who was used to working all her life, or the caregiver who escapes frustration by doing everything the elderly person used to do? By assuming that the elderly person wants to always rest, the caregiver doesn’t have to think of ways to involve her in daily life, or of ways to communicate instructions and suggestions.

There’s a difference between taking it easy and having it easy. Inactivity can be fatal. Joggers tell me they can notice their fitness levels dropping when they don’t run every day. What if you don’t walk every day? What if you don’t sit up every day? What if you don’t get out of bed every day, or if you don’t get out of your wheelchair? Every day, it will get harder.

Professional Alzheimer’s caregivers know the dangers of inactivity. Health inspectors look for bedsores on their patients, so caregivers keep their patients moving enough so that bedsores don’t develop. But good health is more than skin deep.

My grandmother was the one who insisted on going for long walks every day. At first, we walked around the block twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Every time her physical therapists found out what she was doing, they closed her case and stopped treating her. The state would only pay to keep little old ladies out of bed. They wouldn’t pay to keep them walking around the block.

But after her stroke, my grandmother could only manage to walk around the block after she had been dosed with Vitamin B12. Then she could only walk to the corner once a day. She began sleeping longer and longer, waking up later and going to bed earlier.

Should I have tried to wake her up? Usually waking up my grandmother was like waking the dead. But maybe if I had done it more often, she wouldn’t be dead.

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