The Confluence of Aging and Disability: A Personal Experience
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
--Rudyard Kipling, "If"
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
My aunt, on the other hand, is a vibrant 72 years young. She was able to keep pace with our two young daughters during our visit to Puerto Rico - swimming in the ocean, hiking through the El Yunque rain forest, and walking up and down the steep hills of Old San Juan. Yes, it's true that my mother is 10 years older than my aunt and can't be expected to have the same activity level, but it was nonetheless striking to observe the significant disparity in function between two women with the same genes. My aunt also has a less severe form of arthritis in both knees, but continues to maintain a physically active lifestyle by square dancing a couple of nights a week and walking regularly.
Even with a severely damaged knee and the body no longer able to support its own weight for long periods of time, there is an enormous amount that can be done to improve health and function. Many frail older adults succumb to the effects of aging and loss of physical function, and assume that there is nothing left that they can do to offset this decline. Yet, there are many types of physical activities that could be prescribed for frail older adults that would reduce their risk of falling and increase their functional mobility. Various forms of physical activity done in a sitting position, such as recumbent stepping, cycling, weight training, yoga, and tai chi, would be immensely beneficial in improving strength, cardiovascular function, and mobility. These activities would not present a high risk of injury and would increase both physical and psychological well being.
I'll continue to encourage my mother from 1,000 miles away to move as much as possible -- safely and within her limits. But I am also realistic enough to know that what she really needs is an intensive exercise program -- at home or a local gym -- with an enthusiastic instructor who can keep her motivated and hooked on exercise. Perhaps in the near future, NCHPAD will find a way to make this happen for the millions of people with disabilities who desperately need to move more, and with a little support and encouragement, would do just that.