Many of the clients at our law firm come here because they are concerned about their aging parents. Problems can range from physical frailty to declining cognitive ability that can bring challenges in self-care and personal safety as well as open them up to other vulnerabilities.
Some adult children know that their parents want to be as independent as possible as long as they can safely do so. This often means a family goal of keeping the parent in as independent a living situation as possible without compromising safety.
One step children and their elderly parents can take is to take every opportunity to prevent falls. After all, one serious fall that causes a broken hip or leg and the journey back to independence may be insurmountable.
Earlier this month, The New York Times ran a two-part series about just this topic.
Sarcopenia is a common condition that develops in older people, resulting in weakening of skeletal muscle through loss of muscle mass. The first Times piece describes the condition and what steps can prevent or reverse it, even in very elderly people.
A respected geriatrician is quoted as comparing sarcopenia for muscle wasting to osteoporosis that causes bone thinning. He notes that about half of people in their 80s have sarcopenia.
Causes are many, including hormonal changes, obesity, decline in protein synthesis, inflammation, inadequate nutrition and protein intake, chronic disease, inactivity and more.
The condition is a major cause of loss of function and independence in seniors, causing potentially:
- Insulin resistance
But there is reason for optimism. Seniors of any age can restore muscle loss through exercise, weight or band training and targeted nutritional choices, especially regarding protein intake. Treating doctors and geriatricians can explain what exercise and therapeutic approaches to take and therapists and trainers provide direct instruction.
Best news? It does not take much work to regain significant strength.
Part 2 of the Times series explains the wonders of tai chi in restoring health and balance in elderly participants. The ancient Chinese practice is often called moving meditation because of its slow, concentrated, graceful movements, which can even be done from a chair or wheelchair.
The practice can increase strength, stamina and balance, directly impacting fall risk. According to the Times, significant improvement in physical condition can occur in 12 weeks when done for one hour twice per week. A Spanish study cited found that a similar tai chi regimen resulted in a 43 percent lower fall risk and a 50 percent improvement in the likelihood of injury from a fall.
A significant bonus is the accompanying improvement in depression, anxiety and confidence from tai chi.
If you worry about your elderly parent’s independence and decline, consider these recommendations and have your mother or father consult their doctor about them. In the meantime, an elder lawyer can provide comprehensive advice about practical and legal steps to take to help preserve independence.