Helping the elderly walk
Helping the elderly walk - ensuring their safety and your sanity at the same time.
I am my 95 year old Mom's full time caregiver, and the job is getting a bit harder post her broken hip on November 11, 2011. After my initial panic at trying to figure out how to help her in her recovery from a broken hip, I calmed down and started to center my thoughts on how to help my elderly Mother walk. I promised my Dad before his death in 2007 that I would keep her with me as long as possible - as long as I could keep her safe and helping her walk is a big part of the latter part of that sentence.
I was with her during all of her nursing home rehabilitation therapy sessions so I got some good training in helping the elderly walk from her excellent therapists. They schooled me in how to assist her while keeping myself safe at the same time.
This Squidoo article is dedicated to all of the caregivers out there who walk in my same path. As thankless as this job may sometimes appear, it's always rewarding and always important.
The picture is of my Mom during her very first therapy session, just 2 weeks after she had a steel plate and screws inserted to fix her broken hip. She amazes me every single day.
Aging backwards -
My take on the elderly and aging
It's dawned on me the last few years the similarities between raising a young child and caring for the elderly. I do the same tasks a young parent does, only our world is operating in reverse. A young child is learning to walk and care for him or herself throughout the years of training from their parents while the elderly are losing the ability to care for themselves. It is in this situation I find myself caring for my aging mother.
Although I chose not to have children, I now consider myself the mother to a 95 year old. When Mom first came to live with me April 8, 2007 (the day after Dad died), at 91, she was able to walk alone, make some of her own meals, stay alone for 4 or so hours at a time and was generally pretty self-sufficient, with just a bit of help from me. Similar, I suppose, to a child of around 10.
The next year, she started to use a walker around the house "just in case", and I started to put her in a wheelchair for outings as her arthritic knees caused her great pain when walking. So, I pushed and she sat - not at all unlike using a stroller with a young child. I was still working so I hired a caregiver for 8 hours during the day to make sure Mom ate properly and to help her with tasks she used to be able to do. I couldn't trust her to stay alone any longer. So, I had to find "Gertie sitters" which she didn't take to too lightly - not unlike finding babysitters for a young child.
And now, she no longer is walking strong and steady, even with the walker. She is fighting for balance when she stands and, sadly, one day would probably be bed bound if I didn't have a wheelchair ready for that moment. She had every tooth in her head until just last year when she lost 2 bottom teeth. She's becoming a younger child by the day. But, I don't mind. She took care of me and here I will sit, for as long as I can, taking care of her.
A child is born helpless, unable to care for itself, not really aware of its surroundings for the first year of life.
And, as my mother faces her last years of life, she is becoming more helpless, is unable to take care of herself any longer, and, although not completely daffy, there are moments when she looks at me in askance about things she once knew easily. Just as a young child starts to make noises to learn words and find his or her voice, my mom is losing hers. Her words are sometimes jumbled, her voice very soft - mostly. She still definitely lets me know her opinions...And, for that, I'm grateful. And, she's kept her sense of humor as I work hard to keep mine...
But, ah, I've digressed from the intent of this Squidoo article. Back to work.
P.S, The photo is of my Mom at her 95th birthday party.
This article earned the coveted purple star on January 25, 2012
For those of you normal folks not living in Squidland, "Purple Stars are awarded sporadically, when we come across editorial excellence, to our very favorite lenses on the site."
It's a very nice pat on the back really.
Speaking of aging backwards - See The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a few years ago when it first came out. It's a great movie about a man who ages backwards - Brad Pitt does a great job portraying this interesting character. It's a must see for caregivers but I would not suggest you view it around your elderly loved ones. It's got a fairly sad ending....
A man growing old
becomes a child again.
Cotton gait belts help you keep a hand on the elderly as they walk
Before my Mom's fall, I instinctively figured out that I had to bunch up her nightgown in the back to keep a hold of her. Why I didn't get online and look for something made specifically for this purpose is beyond me but I'm hoping to save you the trouble.
A gait belt is a sturdy cotton belt that buckles around the waist of the elderly to give the caregiver a good handhold on them. I save my Mom from falling at least once a day with the help of her gait belt.
Read this excellent article about the proper use of a gait belt: How to use a gait belt.
Other cotton gait belts
Cotton gait belts differ in pricing, depending mostly on the number of handles the gait belt has and the type of buckle. The below gait belts are cheaper than the one above which is my favorite. Just click on any picture to get the specifics about sizing and pricing.
Prestige Medical Gait Belt with Metal Buckle
Mabis Ambulation Gait Belt, Large 533-6030-0123
Mabis Ambulation Gait Belt, Cotton, 65" 533-6027-0024
Prestige Medical 621-blu Cotton Gait Belt with Metal Buckle Blue
Prestige Medical 621-spa Cotton Gait Belt with Metal Buckle Stripes Hot Pink
Other articles which may be of some use when helping the elderly walk
When my Mom first started to tottle, I did a lot of research on the best walkers and wheelchairs on the market. The below articles are a result of this research. I stand behind each and every one of the products reviewed in these articles.
- Handicapped walkers
This article gives an overview of handicapped walkers, how they're used, etc.
- Hugo elite walker
This is my review of the Hugo Elite walker with seat, backrest and saddle bag.
- Duro-Med 2 button walker
My review of the Duro-med 2 button adjustable aluminum folding walker with 5" wheels
- Duro-Med steel 3 wheel rollator
My review of the Duro-Med 3 wheel rollator
- Drive Medical wheelchair flyweight
This is the wheelchair I have for my Mom - it's a companion wheelchair so the back wheels are the same size as the front (a person cannot wheel themselves in this chair). The good thing is that it is very very lightweight and easily portable.
- The Drive 760 knee walker - for those who need just a little help
I've had two surgeries which rendered me on one leg for 3 weeks. Crutches were exhausting so I didn't get out much. I would have if I had had this knee walker. It would have been perfect.
Tips to avoiding falls in the elderly
I've done a lot of Mom-proofing of my house to ensure her safety, particularly when she's walking. The below are some good tips that you might think about if you have an elderly loved one in your house.
- If possible, pick up any throw rugs. Most of my 160 year old house is hardwood floors but I do have some throw rugs around. I'm caught in an interesting middle between giving my 15 year old 3-legged dog, Hops, traction while keeping Mom upright. If you must have throw rugs in your house, track the edges down with nails; it's a small price to pay to refinish the hardwood floor one day than to spend a month in a hospital with your elderly loved one.
Another tip is to use the rug gripper pad underneath to ensure the throw rugs don't slip. And, finally, never buy throw rugs with fringe on the ends - Never, EVER! The fringe can easily get caught up in a walker wheel and throw the elderly off balance.
- Forget about putting a walker tray on a walker unless you're around 100% to aid the elderly in walking. Having a walker tray sure was handy but, once we were in rehab, it dawned on me that the walker tray kept Mom from using the walker the way it was intended. The elderly should stay in the walker instead of pushing it ahead of them, and the tray prevents this.
- If you have a bag attached to the front of the walker, make sure it and its contents are lightweight. A bag which collects magazines, tv remotes, medications, etc can easily become heavy and throw the walker off balance.
- Keep one hand on the elderly as they walk at all times!. This means that you should grab the gait belt securely in one hand always. Never let up.
If a walker will not fit through a doorway, simply switch the front wheels so that they're facing in instead of out. This narrows the width of the walker and will usually allow it to go through even the narrowest doorway.
Helping the elderly walk - Use Gripper socks
My Mom frequently slips when wearing regular socks around the house and she doesn't like houseshoes. So, I make sure to buy her Gripper socks - the type that have the little rubber dots on the bottom. These give her traction.
Forty is the old age of youth,
fifty is the youth of old age.
Elderly knees may need some support when walking
My Mom walks bone-on-bone in one knee - there is no cartilage left. It's very painful for her to walk without wearing some sort of supportive knee brace. She has a few that we use, depending on the severity of the pain.
Make sure to measure around the knee before buying a knee brace. It should fit snugly but should not be tight enough to cause discomfort or cut off circulation.
Other good knee braces
I've had to experiment with at least 5 or 6 knee braces for Mom - some didn't move enough, other knee braces didn't give enough support. Some knee braces were too loose, some too tight. So, if you're looking for knee braces to help the elderly walk, prepare thyself by buying more than one and returning the ones that don't work. This will save you gas!
Body Glove Open Kneecap Breathable Neoprene Knee Support, No Stays
Mueller Hinged Knee Brace
2pcs Protective Sports Bandage Brace Knee Support White
12" Elastic Hinged Knee Brace
Here's some other articles about helping the elderly walk which might be helpful
- Natural news website
A recent study found that the elderly who had more daily Vitamin D were had more mobility and physical health than those with a lesser level. Note: Always ask a doctor before adding any vitamin or mineral to an elderly person's diet as there might b
- Caregivers home companion
The link between walking safety and mental awareness has been made. Read this great article about a study linking the two.
Helping the elderly walk means keeping them nimble through exercise
My Mom is not a fan of exercise these days, but we caregivers have to insist that she move around as much as possible. This means that I've bought exercise bands which we wrap around her legs as she sits and stretches them. Moving her legs up and down and side to side helps her stiff muscles stretch. Walking is less painful when she's stretched.
The below items are a few good things you can use to help you getting the elderly a modicum of exercise. And, remember, every single movement is important. It doesn't matter if you can only get your elderly loved one to stretch for 5 minutes - that's 5 minutes more than they had before.
My Mom used the a similar exercise peddler to the one listed below for 15 minutes a day while in nursing home rehab. It made a big difference in her ability to move afterwards.
Deluxe Folding Exercise Peddler With Electronic Display
Essential Medical Supply Exercise Pulley Set
Thera-Band Exercise Bands
Light Resistance Set of 5 ft Bands- Green, Red and Yellow
An e-book on caregiving
I'm curious as to my reader's reactions of my putting together an e-book which would be about care giving. I personally am not sure that I have a lot to add to the excellent caregiving books already on the market but what do you think (and, I'm really NOT fishing for compliments - I want you honest opinion, please).
Do you think I should put together an ebook on caregiving?
My Mom and I love to read comments so please let us know you stopped by. This guest book is open to all visitors - you don't have to be a Squidoo member to comment.