If the essence of living is activity, then it’s especially vital for the elderly. As a member of the elder-care profession, I observe an unfortunate reality during the winter months: We inexplicably lose seniors who are frail and suffering from poor health.
For the aging, the doldrums of winter months can be difficult. Inactivity and depression are likely contributors.
While observing my mom and dad, I witnessed a gradual reduction of physical activity and community engagement during the winter months. My folks enjoyed retirement, but over time, their winter routine decreased to a small number of recurring activities: grocery shopping, meals, church and favorite TV shows.
A new season, a fresh start
With the arrival of spring, the elderly — along with the rest of us — will likely engage in far more activity.
Every year during spring, my folks revived and reengaged in active living. This was heartening for me; I’m sure it was for them, too.
As I was thinking about this, I remembered some of the rites of spring my father and mother observed. Two stand out: renewed interest in the Seattle Mariners and planting a garden.
My folks loved the Mariners. Each year, with the start of spring training, there was renewed hope. There was optimism, talk of strong performances and expectations of a playoff run…and, just maybe, a berth in the World Series.
In the spring, Mom and Dad were upbeat. Once the regular season games began, they’d do their few daily activities and end each day by watching the Mariners. This custom continued on through the last days of summer.
When Dad passed, Mom continued to watch the ball games; I’m sure it was comforting for Mom, knowing this was a pastime they shared.
So what’s different about the spring and summer months? I observed my folks structuring their daily activities around leisure pursuits they cherished. There was a predictable rhythm to the days that hinged on their common interests.
Therein lies a lesson: With the arrival of spring, encourage your aging loved ones to uphold their traditions. If they love baseball, talk to them about of the upcoming season and the excitement building around our ball team. If they are physically able, take them to a few games. If stairs and walking long distances are problematic, use a wheelchair to transport them from the car and into the stadium.
Aging brings forgetfulness, so, at game time, call or text your loved ones to remind them to turn on their TV.
Mom and Dad also loved planting a spring garden. If aging interferes with your loved one’s ability to garden, step in and do what you can. If they have a big garden and it’s too much for you, ask if they‘d be OK with planting a smaller garden this year.
Provide transportation to a nursery, and make it a lunch outing.
Let them choose the vegetables, starts and flowers and then help with the planting. If your elders cannot do the physical work, while you are doing weeding and planting, they can observe and tell you where they want plants placed.
Scale the garden so that you can maintain it with a once-a-week visit. For watering, install a timer on the sprinkler.
Even if only minimally involved, your loved ones will enjoy being outdoors, the sunlight, color, the flowers and vegetables.
If your elders no longer have a garden, take them for walks in Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park or the Kubota Gardens in Rainier Beach. The Washington Park Arboretum’s Japanese Garden is enchanting, but take care: Its trails are suitable only for elders who are steady on their feet.
Spring is here. Support your elders in welcoming a new season and look for distinctive ways you can help them reengage in active living. Then, step in and participate.
MARLA BECK is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home eldercare. Submit questions by calling (206) 838-1844 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.