Enjoying a breezy spring day or the warm summer temperatures don't have to be a distant memory for elders and caregivers. After being cooped up in the house for possibly months at a time, senior adults can breathe in the fresh air, even if they are experiencing mobility problems. It takes some advance planning and choosing an activity that won't seem like a chore, but it's worth getting out of the house, for you and your elderly parent.
The benefits of getting outside
A main advantage of heading outdoors, even for a short period of time, is being able to soak up the sunlight, which generates Vitamin D – necessary for the brain, bones and muscle function, says Dr. Michael Raab, a geriatrician with Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, Fla. Some doctors even prescribe sunlight as a source of Vitamin D, which research also finds can improve cognitive function.
Another key benefit is that being outside enables elders to socialize and interact with caregivers as well as other adults, children and animals.
Those activities can give people an extra spring in their step and rejuvenate them, says Christina Chartrand, vice president of training and staff development for Senior Helpers, an in-home senior care agency with offices in 40 states.
Raab adds: "Whatever you can do, it's going to be mentally uplifting."
Although caregivers may be aware of the benefits, sometimes it seems as if the obstacles, such as wheelchair access, bathroom access, frailty and fatigue, are too great to overcome the great outdoors.
Caregivers can start to prepare elders with mobility problems to take the steps to head outside. Your physician can suggest chair exercises to make them more stable and build their muscles, for example.
Even though the temperatures may be pleasant, Raab says it's also important to make sure an elderly family member stays well hydrated; if not, it can impact muscle function and blood pressure and lead to a dangerous situation.
Types of outdoor activities for caregivers and the elderly
Instead of being overwhelmed by the potential challenges, focus on activities and interests that you and the elderly person you're caring for enjoy.
Here are 10 suggestions:
- Catch a sporting event. The events could be watching a grandchild's soccer game, which are not all-day events, or attending a professional game, like baseball.
- Fish for fun. For folks who enjoy fishing, you can cast a rod from a pier or other location, even if someone has mobility problems or uses a wheelchair.
- Be a tourist. If you live in a city, take an open-air bus or trolley tour to see the local sights. Another option could be a boat tour, depending on what type of equipment an elder needs to take with them. "It's outside, but you don't have to be walking," Chartrand says.
- Take a dip. For some folks, it may just be putting a foot in the pool, while others may be able to handle low-impact water aerobics.
- Stroll around. If a walk is possible, start slow. Raab suggests trying three or four minutes in one direction, turning around and coming back.
- Be a bird lover. If you have a birdhouse, bird feeder or bird bath in your yard, checking on the those daily give elderly individuals a reason to go outside.
- Pedal around. Rent a three-wheeled bicycle, which are easier to mount and ride, and also could offer back support.
- Go fly a kite. Head to a park or beach and get a kite soaring. Let an elderly individual take control, which they can do while sitting down. If children are around, they can get involved by trying to keep the kite in the air.
- Picnic outdoors. Picnics are another park or playground activity. Elderly individuals can watch children run around or enjoy the buzz of outdoor activity.
- Celebrate the holidays. From Memorial Day concerts to Fourth of July fireworks, there are plenty of community events this spring and summer with opportunities for elders to get out and be part of the crowd.