Family Caregiver – Part 8 – Exercise and Elderly Wheelchair Patients

Ethel Gonzales

Exercise is important for everyone including a wheelchair patient. Stretching, walking, all help make the patient more comfortable in the end. I don’t have any luck getting my husband to exercise. He says he gets enough exercising just trying to move his body from bed to wheelchair. On really good days he may walk the hall – a total of 20 steps. We rejoice on those days, but they are few and far between. Never stop encouraging movement and rejoice in the accomplishments.

My husband had terribly restless legs during the day and at bedtime in the beginning of his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. The only thing that helped was to use a portable bicycle pedal machine, the kind you put on the floor in front of a chair. He used it in bed, placed at the foot of the bed. An added benefit was stronger legs and somewhat better control of his legs when he did try to walk. Since the disease has progressed and he is taking different medication the restless legs don’t bother as much and he doesn’t use the pedal machine. Unfortunately his leg strength has declined.

Physical therapy can help if the patient participates. It can become a welcome day away from home, a chance to see the outside world and socialize with the therapists and other patients. When the patient doesn’t follow the program there is not much you can do to force the issue. If he doesn’t participate and receive the benefits of the program, both patient and caregiver suffer. Sympathizing with the patient’s condition and giving in to his indifference does not help. A tough love attitude may help but it may also create more issues to be dealt with once the patient is home. Choose your battles.

Having assistance, a helper, can make the biggest difference in your daily lives. A trained assistant, I have a CNA to help me with my husband, can help with moderate exercises and stretching. Still, the patient must be willing to participate. Having someone else exercise the patient can give the caregiver a well deserved break and gives the patient a new face and personality to explore. Friends and family may help if they are available. It helps both caregiver and patient if the help and helper is consistent. Changing helpers every day or every other day can be very hard on you and the patient , having to retrain each new helper, whether friend or paid CNA. Having a stable relationship with a reliable helper can add a dose of “normal” to your life that is so unpredictable .

Caregiver Needs
The caregiver too should be involved in some sort of physical exercise to fend off injury to herself by over reaching or stretching, or trying to take on more weight than she can. Even if it’s only walking a few minutes a day, it can help. Pushing and pulling the patient does not count as exercise. I know I feel better, my muscles ache less if I do other activity around the house too. Gardening that requires bending and stretching can help when you bend over to tie his shoes. Walking the dog gets you out of the house for a few minutes in to the fresh air, and gives you a chance to stretch those muscles stiff from sitting with him. And it gives you a chance to put a few minutes distance between you and your patient, a “breather”.

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