It’s those changes in latitudes,
Changes in attitudes nothing remains quite the same
With all of our running and all of our cunning,
If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.
Jimmy Buffet, Changes in Latitudes
Jimmy Buffet frames today’s blog well: If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.
As we age, nothing ever remains the same, right? When we are infants, one of our earliest milestones is learning to walk. Next, we want to be older so we can gain independence and do the things we want to do. Then, when we are adults, we may not want all the responsibility that comes with that territory. Finally, as we grow older and begin to lose some of our physical stamina or our mental acuity, we start to rely on others to help us again. I know that I can’t imagine what I would do without my 18-year-old son to open jars for me, or to get those blasted plastic cases off of pretty much anything I purchase at Best Buy! And when it comes to today’s technology, I’m completely lost. I need my kids to show me how to turn on the Smart TV in our home!
My 97-year-old mother needs lots of help these days. As I write this, she is still recovering from a fall last November that left her with a broken hip. She can no longer walk, and for the last couple of years, I have warned her that if she were confined to a wheelchair, she would no longer be able to live at home because her house was not built to accommodate a wheelchair.
Of course, my brother (the awesome primary care coordinator!) and I (the long-distance family caregiver) could have implemented a home modification plan. It would widen doors, renovate the bathroom, and make her home livable for someone in a wheelchair, but we both preferred to keep her on her feet and walking. That task became more difficult as time went by.
Arthritis, osteoporosis, congestive heart failure, and any number of other debilitating chronic illnesses or diseases can rob us of our mobility. When walking hurts or leaves us short of breath, we don’t want to do it, but the best way to keep moving independently of wheelchairs, scooters and the like is just to keep walking! If you can walk, even slowly, then you must walk every day. I told my mom this for the last two years, and for the first year, it worked. She would walk to the mailbox and back each day with her Home Instead Caregiver. Then she got sick and lost strength during her illness. When she recovered, she no longer had the stamina for the mailbox walks. Her caregiver still encouraged her to walk throughout the day within her home, but her steps were fewer and more uncertain as time went by.
The fall that broke her hip put an end to her walking days and began her wheelchair season. She is frustrated by the fact that she cannot walk now, and doesn’t fully understand what happened to make her this way. We all make the best of the challenging change in her mobility. Her caregiver is compassionate and patient when helping her from her bed to the wheelchair or her recliner. But she will never again be able to go for a walk, and that saddens me.
If you are providing care for someone who can still walk, please encourage them to go for walks with you. Get them out of the house, and take a stroll around the yard. If they are able, walk around the block. Go to the mall and join the walkers there for a social outing. Park farther from the entrance to the doctor’s office or a favorite restaurant. But know your loved one’s ability or disability. Be prepared if they are having a bad day, or if they need to take a break. Plan for a place to sit, or use a walker with a seat built into it. And remember, this is NOT a wheelchair. It is not designed for the user to sit on it and be pushed, except in the case of an emergency! The longer you, and your loved one, can walk unassisted, the longer you will both be able to walk and enjoy the independence of walking.
We hope you will join the conversation below and share your ideas for how to keep your aging loved one walking, or for how to manage with patience and humor when they can no longer walk on their own.