Making a Success of Frail-ure

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Pope Benedict XVI recently resigned his papacy because of health issues associated with frailty. This high profile decision has launched the word frailty  from something we think of as a condition into something we view as a watershed health event. But actually, the medical community has long recognized that frailty probably has a biological basis and is its own clinical syndrome.

In fact, according to a recent post in The New York Times’ New Old Age blog, “Geriatricians diagnose frailty when a patient meets three of five criteria: Unintentional weight loss of more than 10 pounds in the past year. Weakness, as measured by a test of handgrip strength. Self-reported exhaustion. Slowness, calculated by how long it takes to walk 15 feet. Low physical activity.”

There is some good news. Frailty doesn’t have to mean the end of a full and rewarding life. As Dr. Stephanie Studenski, director of clinical research for the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging told Home Instead Senior Care, frailty can be both prevented and reversed by activity. "One of the core ideas in aging is that there are underlying problems in the body's self-correcting mechanism. Through activity, though, seniors can build both physical and mental reserves that can help their body better tolerate problems that come with aging."

Dr. Ken Covinsky, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco, concurs in the New Old Age blog, “Often, people with frailty can live a pretty good life with good home care and social support.” At Home Instead Senior Care of the Southeast Valley, we suggest seniors incorporate the following exercises in their routine to help prevent or improve frailty. All of the below could be done while the senior is watching television, but it might be more fun to put on some music with a good beat and turn it into an exercise class.

Power Grip

• Hold a tennis ball or other small rubber or foam ball in one hand

• Slowly squeeze the ball as hard as you can and hold it for 3-5 seconds

• Relax the squeeze slowly

• Repeat 10 – 15 times

• Repeat 10 – 15 times with the other hand

• Repeat 10 – 15 times more with each hand

Leg Curl (designed to help make walking and climbing stairs easier for a senior)

• Stand behind a sturdy chair, holding on for balance. Lift one leg straight back without bending the knee or pointing the toes. Breathe in slowly

• Breathe out, slowly bringing the heel up toward the buttocks as far as possible

• Bend only from the knee, keeping hips still. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent

• Hold position for 1 second

• Breathe in, slowly lowering the foot to the floor

• Repeat 10 – 15 times

• Repeat 10 – 15 times with the other leg

• Repeat 10 – 15 more times with each leg

Leg Strengthening (helps strengthen thighs and may reduce symptoms of arthritis of the knee)

• Sit in a sturdy chair with back supported by the chair. Only the balls of feet and toes should rest on the floor. Put a rolled bath towel at the edge of the chair under the thighs for support. Breathe in slowly

• Breathe out and slowly extend one leg in front as straight as possible, but don't lock the knee

• Flex the foot to point toes toward the ceiling. Hold that position for 1 second

• Breathe in, slowly lowering the leg back down

• Repeat 10 – 15 times

• Repeat 10 – 15 times with other leg

• Repeat 10 – 15 more times with each leg

Circle Scarves (Great for a senior confined to a chair or bed. You will need two colorful scarves.)

• With a scarf in each hand, extend arms straight out in front

• Make circles in the air with scarves, going from small to large circles

• Continue on with the circles by going down from large to small

Day At The Beach (This mobility activity can be made easier for seniors with eyesight problems if a caregiver describes the actions.)

• Hold a beach ball at chest level in both hands

• Stretch arms out straight

• Then pull arms back to the chest

• Repeat while counting to 10


For more information about helping seniors lead more fulfilling and healthy lives, please call Home Instead Senior Care at 480-827-4343, or Like us on Facebook. You can also find more information about physical activities for seniors on



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