Aging Parents: The Value of Walking With Your Parents if You’re Over 44

What we and aging parents need to know about postponing
age-related changes

An October 10, 2010 Jane Brody column in the NY Times about age-related changes, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/26/health/26brody.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general continues to be timely. I was reminded of this column as I passed a former neighbor’s home. A garage sale was in progress.

I hadn’t seen my former neighbor, Jane, since last fall, yet I had known  her well and watched her children grow up.  Her husband died prematurely and last fall she introduced me to an important man in her life, Pete.  He was moving here, she said, to be with her.

She shared that Pete was an only child; didn’t want to leave his mother out west.  So although his mother was in her late 80’s she too was moving here into a really nice apartment they had furnished for her, complete with her recently-shipped-out furniture.

I gently questioned about leaving friends, doctors, other supports behind and was told Pete’s mother never went out, just sat home and watched TV, so it really didn’t matter whether she was here or back home. It was the same TV, the same furniture, only now she could be near her son plus Jane. And they could both help her.

As I looked at the sale items neatly organized on the lawn and driveway I spotted a walker. Since another neighbor was a partner in this garage sale I asked “who’s walker was that?”

“Oh, that was Pete’s mother’s, she died a few months ago.”
“I remember she was coming out here,” I said.
“Yes, she came, but it turned out she had a lot wrong with her that we never knew about,” Jane offered.  “She had congestive heart failure among other things. I guess I should have realized.  During the years I’ve known her she stopped walking unless it was absolutely necessary.  She used to go into the market with us to shop, but made excuses to stay in the car the last few years.  And all she did was watch TV.  I realized her figure changed–I guess from so much sitting–her waist, hips, legs got bigger from sitting around and the congestive heart failure, I guess.”

I offered my sympathy.

Jane Brody’s column immediately came to mind. We learn that lifestyle choices we make from midlife on can influence the damage from age-related changes and impact our functioning in late life.

Then a book by Mark Lachs, director of geriatrics at the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System becomes the focus. Dr. Lachs identifies two major influences (among others) that impact how well older people function and we learn that we start to deteriorate (my words) without realizing it at an early age.

Around age 30, for example, muscle strength begins its unnoticed decline until we have muscle weakness. While this may not affect healthy people’s lives until they’re 80-90, lifestyle choices, whether we make them at 50 or 90, can allow us to postpone that rate of decline.

Dr. Lach writes, for example, that if you begin walking daily at age 45, you could delay immobility to 90+. Conversely, immobility can impact a couch potato as early as 60.

Check out Jane Brody’s column and check out Dr. Lach’s book, Treat Me, Not My Age, (Viking) http://treatmenotmyage.com/.  Think I’ll give his book to a 45-year-old friend; it could also be a Father’s Day gift.

Older people may respond to and prefer advice from a book or, as I’ve often mentioned, “from their doctor,” rather than from us adult children. If this information can help us and help our parents to age well–isn’t it a win-win?

Aging Parents: Lack of Exercise, Weakened Muscles–Do We Enable?

Knowing that “ify” balance and loss of confidence contribute to aging parents’ concern about falling, and just having written about falling and “alert” pendants, reminded me of one of those “ah haa!” moments.  I realized that Mother, recovering from a stroke, was not conscientious about doing her physical therapy exercises at home. For one thing, she needed to walk more, her muscles needed strengthening. As we know, muscles weaken for lack of use.

Being a far-away living child, I wanted to make the most of my time with her. My suggestions only made her feel less adequate when I flew out to visit. I wanted to empower.  What better than a short outing to Nordstroms? We’d have fun. She’d have to walk.

Underway and armed with handicapped tag (and walker just in case), I felt tension thinking about the availability of a handicapped parking space.  But there it was–just waiting for us.

As I was preparing to get out, then help Mother out–flash of brilliance: “Why am parking so close? The primary purpose of this outing is for Mother to walk more…I’m trying to help an aging parent, not trying to park as close as I can which limits her walking.”

When parents can–and need to–exercise their leg muscles, doesn’t it make sense to avoid the handicapped space? Of course we needn’t park blocks away–but we know our parents, we can guage their capability (if uncertain check with doctor) and gradually increase it.

Walking–as we know–is a best exercise and costs nothing (unless we do a lot of shopping).

If parents need the stability of your arm, check out the dignified, preferred way of doing this in my August 21st post. And of course shopping carts at the big box stores, grocery stores etc. provide the stability to make walking easy for older parents.

Bottom line: skip the handicapped spaces, unless there’s a good reason to use them. This is one more way we can help our parents age well.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.