What Can You Do When a Loved One Won’t Exercise?


Charlie has experienced several falls in the past few months. Most of the falls have occurred during the night and he never remembers them the next day. He is usually able to get himself back on his feet, so I never know anything has happened until I see the battle scars the next morning.

I discovered his most recent fall because he asked me for a band-aid when he arose one morning. He insisted he hadn't fallen during the night, but I knew the brush burn on his knee didn't come from the bed sheets. He had also been complaining for several days about his left shoulder; again he insists he didn't fall, but he couldn't even raise his left arm. The only logical conclusion is that he fell at some unknown time.

His shoulder injury was serious enough that I took him to be checked out at the VA hospital. They ran him through the usual x-rays and tests, and concluded that it was only a bruised muscle. The therapist sent him home with a set of pulleys for therapy, a walker, and some grab bars.

These incidents have prompted me to insist that he begin using the walker instead of his trusty (not so fast) HurryCane. He hasn't given me any trouble about using the walker because he realizes that he is much more secure with his little cart to lean on. Besides, it gives him enough independence to be able to pour a second cup of coffee on his own.

We have had to make some furniture adjustments to accommodate the new wheels, but that's a small sacrifice for his safety.

I'm not sure to what I should attribute his declining mobility and balance problems; whether it is just natural aging, the dementia getting a deeper hold on his body, or if his alcohol consumption, while not increasing, is nonetheless affecting his balance. Perhaps it is a combination of the three forces at work. Whatever the cause, it is certainly cause for alarm.

So far, he has been lucky in that he hasn't broken anything. How long his luck will hold out remains to be seen.

Falls are one of the major causes of death in the elderly. One way to prevent falls is to participate in strength training exercises.

We have ST classes available on site here at the senior living community where we live. But Charlie decided about six months ago that these weren't doing any good, so he quit attending. That is about the time that the falls began to accelerate. I am quite certain that his reluctance to attend the classes is more related to his growing refusal to get up before noon than his cockamamie idea that they weren't helping.

How to address these issues has become the dilemma. Do I fight with him daily over getting out of bed for classes? Or do I take the easy route and assume a "what will be, will be" attitude?

I can't win, no matter what I decide. Classes are on vacation until September, so I have two months to choose my poison.

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For AgingCare.com, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

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Marlis, I sympathize with you as you struggle with your "can't win" situation, especially if his dementia is progressive and you can only have a slight effect on it anyway. Maybe there's some activity he would enjoy doing with you that you can call something else even though you know it's really "exercise" too. Did you two dance together or can you just go for a "fun walk" or to "birdwatch" or to "walk the dog?" I would be concerned about your and his emotional wellbeing if you opt for the daily fight and it's not likely to help your relationship either. I experienced a lot of this taking care of my wife. But, I also came to realize she was never trying to be resistant. She was depressed or anxious about doing something wrong or falling or risking my disapproval. I'll share this from Caregiver Carols: a Musical, Emotional Memoir:

Why do you resist me when I steer you when you walk?
Why do you insist on mumbling every time you talk?
You bellyache if I just give a little sigh or frown
When you make me get back up as soon as I’ve sat down.
I’d rather trip and split my lip and have my trousers tear in two,
Than have a brawl and daily squall, trying to take care of you.
Why do you resist me when I wipe food from your face?
Why do you insist on grumbling, get down on my case?
You sneer and snipe if I just say a silly, small complaint
When you gripe on ‘bout all I’ve done and everything I ain’t.
I’d rather stay up Arctic way, herding herds of caribou,
Than have a fray most every day, trying to take care of you.
Why do you resist me when I give your neck some rest?
Why do you insist on bending chin down onto chest?
You go on accusing that I “only want to boss you”
When you are refusing to stay still so I can floss you.
I’d rather crawl around a mall, with senior gals whose hair is blue,
Then have a nasty fight each night, trying to take care of you.
Why do you resist me when I lift your arm to dress you?
Why do you insist I’m “never wrong” just to impress you?
You seem to take delight in noting each of my mistakes,
When you could make it right by helping, that is all it takes.
I’d rather snare a grizzly bear: that’s dumb and pretty scary, too,
Then wage a war and rant and roar, trying to take care of you.
Let's think of ourselves and exercise. How many of us are doing a regular routine like we did in the past?

I use to be a gym rat [worked out at the gym a lot] but once I had to start helping my parents with driving them everywhere, I had to let my gym membership run out. I didn't have the time anymore to go. That was 5 years ago and I am pushing 70 years old, and I am too emotionally drained to even think about any type of workout, and I feel the difference big time. Worrying about my parents IS my exercise :(
Onlyoneholly: I recommend placing gym mats on the floor by your mom's bed to cushion her falls. Check with a local medical supply company for purchasing these. Regarding her bed, find someone who can come in and lower her bed by altering the height of her bed. This might mean buying her a lower height mattress as well. Find a good home Health Care agency in the area and set up physical and occupational therapy services for your mom. She may work with those therapists more than she will with her own caregivers. A physical therapist can work with her on using her walker, and her doctor can reinforce her need to use a walker in an office visit with her. When taking care of a dementia patient you have to be creative. Where there's a will there's a way. Best of luck to you and your mother.