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Posted September 22, 2006

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Elderly Care: Exercise for the Elderly Unmotivated

Q. My boyfriend's mother is 80 years old, with diabetes. Recently, she had some constipation problems, which were addressed, and pretty much taken care of. But, since then, she had been fixated on various things, which I think might be attributed to depression, lack of exercise, and being alone all day until I get there after I finish work. My boyfriend works from noon to 8 p.m., and I stay with her until he gets home.

I want to try to get her motivated to do something, but all she wants to do is lie down in bed, or (sometimes) watch her soap operas. What kind of simple exercises can I get her to do so she can have something to focus on? She is on anxiety meds, and does get an insulin shot every morning. She needs a sleeping pill at night because she sleeps, or naps during the day -- they only work for about 4-5 hours, though. Is it true that she might only need 4-5 hours of sleep a night?

I try to get her to do things, like go out of the house, but the only time she gets anywhere is to the doctor's. Any suggestions?

Deb U., Marysville, PA

A. Thank you for the question regarding your boyfriend's mother. First of all, she sounds really depressed, so a psychiatric evaluation would be in order, if this has not been done already. If she is able to get out and about, she might enjoy a senior citizen center, or even an adult day care. Your county's Area Agency on Aging will have more information on these resources. Your boyfriend's mother would certainly benefit from the stimulation and socialization. Most of these programs do offer exercise classes as well. Another suggestion about exercise is to ask her doctor for a physical therapy consult. Even if it's only a one-time visit, it would help identify the most useful exercises for your boyfriend's mother to do. If she is affiliated with a church, ask if they have any volunteer visitors, or appropriate groups that she could be involved with.

I'm sure that the daytime sleeping is related to her lack of activity or motivation. If she is napping quite a bit, the 4 - 5 hours of sleep she gets at night may be enough for the 24-hour period.

Good luck and let me hear how things go. My best wishes to you and your family!

This answer is provided by Paula P. Tchirkow, MSW, LSW, ACSW, president of Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Geriatric Consultants and a certified and licensed geriatric care manager. She specializes in geriatric care management for elderly parents and relatives, and middle-aged adults who have chronic illnesses. In addition to working with families, she also works with attorneys, financial advisors, physicians, bank trust officers and human resource directors.

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