By Dr. Abhijit Shinde
Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s something most people do without thinking, so it’s easy to take it for granted. As people age, they’re more likely to develop respiratory complications and experience difficulty with breathing. Along with this comes a host of other ailments, ranging from high anxiety and emotional stress, to a reduced energy level and a compromised immune system.
Caregivers can benefit from proper breathing and help their elderly patients alleviate some of these symptoms through focused techniques that increase the body’s oxygen levels and ease physical and mental stress.
Regular breathing exercises can alleviate physical symptoms associated with:
- Asthma attacks
- High blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Sleep apnea
Believe it or not, there is a right way to breathe, but most people don’t practice it. Patients with limited lung capacity often fall into the habit of taking short, shallow breaths into their chest. If a patient’s chest rises as he takes a breath, it is a likely indicator of improper breathing. Proper breath will draw air into your lungs, pushing the diaphragm and visibly expanding the belly. Follow these steps to help a loved one benefit from deep, diaphragmatic breathing:
- The patient sits straight, with one hand on his stomach, and the other on his chest.
- The patient inhales slowly and deeply through the nostrils, feeling the stomach expand with each full, diaphragmatic breath.
- The patient exhales slowly out of the mouth.
- Repeat six or more times each minute, for up to 15 minutes.
The popular 4-7-8 breathing method has been touted as one of the most effective (and speedy) ways to fall asleep. Some studies even suggest that a patient can drift off in less than a minute. How does this help when you’re caring for an elderly patient? Part of the 4-7-8 technique’s success lies in its ability to ease tension and promote relaxation. Help your patients employ the following technique twice a day to experience fewer food cravings, reduced anxiety and insomnia relief.
- The patient breathes out fully through the mouth, imitating a wind like “whoosh” on the exhale.
- With mouth closed, the patient inhales through the nose, counting to four.
- The patient holds his breath for seven counts.
- The patient exhales through his mouth, repeating the “whoosh” sound for eight counts.
- Repeat four to five times.
Buteyko Nose Breathing
Buteyko breathing was invented by a Russian scientist more than 50 years ago to curb asthma attacks and treat other respiratory problems. Unfortunately, the medical field resisted a breathing technique that could ease symptoms without the help of medication. Since then, people around the world have embraced Buteyko breathing specifically because its results are purely natural, not to mention effective.
Thousands of patients have reported relief from asthma, sleep apnea and hypertension by integrating this proven method—which balances the body’s oxygen and carbon dioxide—into their daily exercises. It’s best to have senior patients do this under supervision to avoid improper technique that can result in hyperventilation:
- In a quiet place, the patient should sit up straight and comfortably, focusing on breathing.
- With closed mouth, the patient breathes slowly through the nostrils to fill the lungs.
- The patient exhales through the nostrils, slowly expelling the air from his lungs, until he feels compelled to inhale.
- Upon inhale, the patient repeats steps 1 and 2 until he feels the need to exhale.
- Repeat five times.
Keep it Consistent
More often than not, patients start with daily breathing techniques and notice positive results, so they stick with the program. Missing a day or two is acceptable, unless it affects the whole routine and causes the participant to slip into his old breathing habits. Encourage your loved one to track their progress with a diary, so you can recognize improvement and note any significant changes. This also helps caretakers and seniors stay on task with daily breathing exercises.
You do it more than 25,000 times a day, so it’s easy to get lazy when it comes to breathing. Unfortunately, adverse symptoms creep into daily life when you aren’t oxygenating your blood with proper breathing techniques. In just a few weeks after starting these breathing exercises, seniors can shake old habits and develop new ones that lead to improved physical health and a renewed sense of mental alertness and clarity.
Dr. Abhijit Shinde, Medical Director at Aayu Clinics Lakeview Immediate Care, has a long history of experience in primary care, urgent care, and ERs. A graduate of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Dr. Shinde is invested in every patient’s health, staying open 365 days a year to help patients when they need it.