As people age, they begin to lose muscle mass and strength. This unfortunate reality leaves older people less able to perform many tasks of daily life. Eventually, this leads to a lower quality of life for many people. Fortunately, well-documented studies have proven that resistance strength training can reverse this loss of muscle mass to that of younger levels. Resistance training requires special attention to details such as intensity, volume, repetitions, and amount of days per week it is performed.
Pay attention to your parents’ appearance. Are their clothes clean? Do they appear to be taking good care of themselves? Failure to keep up with daily routines — such as bathing, tooth brushing and other basic grooming — could indicate dementia, depression or physical impairments.
Also pay attention to your parents’ home. Are the lights working? Is the heat on? Are the bathrooms clean? Is the yard overgrown? Any big changes in the way your parents do things around the house could provide clues to their health. For example, scorched pots could mean your parents are forgetting about food cooking on the stove. Neglected housework could be a sign of depression, dementia or other concerns.
As a culture, we tend to view our elderly parents as essentially obsolete — like old cars destined for the scrap heap. But other geriatric experts believe that aging can actually be a period of growth and personal development. Understanding and facilitating the developmental needs of your parents can make this stage of life a deeply rewarding one — for you and for them. But it can be difficult for middle-aged adults to support their elderly parents in this process — in part because they’re focused on their own developmental issues.
For most people, midlife is a time of independence and mastery. You’ve gained confidence and a clear sense of what your values are, so this stage of life is focused on consolidating your gains and taking on new responsibilities. At the same time, midlife is a time to nurture and give back, whether by having children or engaging in mentoring or social activism.
Here are a few things you can do to motivate an elderly person to remain active and engaged in society.
- The #1 thing to keep in mind is that you can’t force a senior to be active and to exercise. Your efforts will not succeed if the elderly person feels coerced into doing it. Therefore, patient and friendly persuasion goes much farther than confrontation.
- Educate the elderly person about the benefits of activity and exercise. Don’t assume that she knows why it is so important. Give her literature and find ways to direct your conversations toward related issues.
- Focus your efforts on encouraging the elderly person to try things that you know or believe she has enjoyed in the past or that have a high likelihood of being interesting to her now.
- It is often useful to break activities down into parts so that the elderly person does not feel overwhelmed. A walk to the mailbox could be a small step that leads to a walk down the street at some point.
- Offer praise and support when the elderly person completes the activity. Acknowledgement is important to everyone and the elderly are no different. Praise can go a long way to helping a senior feel motivated to continue the activity in the future.
- Participate with the elderly person in the activity so she does not feel ill-at-ease or that you are pitying her. If you are enjoying the activity and being with the person, make sure she knows it.
It is recommended that you talk to your doctor before beginning a strength-training program, especially if you are a senior. Finding a personal trainer that specializes in training older people can also be beneficial. Even if you only train with them once or twice, it will help you learn how to use machines, weights, and other devices at the gym. If you do not belong to a gym, or don’t live near one, buying a set of light weights and using them at home can be very helpful too. There are many programs that can be found online, in magazines, or books that you can perform right in your living room.
A study done by Murlasits at the University of Memphis aimed to figure out just how often people over the age of 60 should exercise if they want to gain strength and reverse muscle loss. The study tested different people as they exercised either 2 days a week or 3 days a week, in order to discover how many days produces the best results. Both groups gained comparable amounts of muscle mass, leaving the results inconclusive over how many times per week was better. They did find however, that there is a threshold of muscle gain, so exercising more than 3 times per week did not seem to increase muscle gain further. What was exciting about this study was that it showed older adults really could reverse the aging process in the realm of muscle mass. All of them showed a substantial increase in muscle mass, strength, and were better able to perform daily functions at home and outside.