I wrote a recent column on My 92-Year-Old Hero: What We Can Learn. I’m living with Rick helping him to recover from a fall.
Rick lived alone getting around with a walker. Betty came in the morning to fix his breakfast and again in the evening to fix his dinner. The rest of the time he lived happily on his own. He had a set of exercises given him by a physical therapist, which he did once a day. Six weeks ago after Betty had left he was doing the slight knee bends prescribed by the PT while holding onto the kitchen counter for stability. He lost his balance and fell. He then had trouble moving his left leg so I took him to the ER.
He spent two nights in the hospital getting thoroughly checked out and they found he’d broken his pubic bone, which was why he couldn’t use his left leg. Otherwise he was a healthy nonagenarian. I ordered a hospital bed and a wheelchair and brought him home. It took two people for the transfers just to get him out of bed, into the wheelchair and into his chair in the family room. I hired two more caregivers on different shifts to help me. For each transfer we put a safety belt around his chest and used it to help him stand up from bed and then sit in the wheelchair, etc.
Initially two of us were doing most of the work to get him into and out of his wheelchair. The physical therapist gave him a new set of exercises which he does daily in a split workout. He does one set after lunch before his nap and a different set after dinner. After six weeks he was strong enough so that he just needed one of us to hold the safety belt to help him balance during a transfer and to spot him in case he starts to fall. He was doing all the work. He could roll himself around the house in the wheelchair.
I went home for three days and when we got back Rick was noticeably weaker and it took two of us to help get him into and out of his wheelchair. We were all very worried. If he continued to get weaker he wouldn’t be able stand up at all. He weighs about 150 lbs. and if he couldn’t stand it’d take two very strong people to lift him into and out of his wheelchair, into and out of his chair in the family room and into and out of bed. A real game changer.
He didn’t like doing the damn exercises and while I was gone the caregivers didn’t make him work through the program every day. After just three days his muscles had atrophied and he was noticeably weaker. As we age our muscles atrophy unless we exercise them to keep them strong and the older we get the faster they atrophy.
Many of you commented on the earlier column and a common theme was how important consistency is for older riders. Rick wasn’t consistent and paid the consequences.
I immediately got Rick back on the program and started thinking about what I knew about weight lifting. If someone first does a very light set then s/he can lift more in the main set. From my experience light set doesn’t even need to be through the full range of motion. Just tightening the muscles a bit several times does the trick.
The next morning when Rick was ready to get out of bed I told him I wanted to experiment and that I was going to put my hand on his right thigh. I asked him to tighten his right quad – “Damn, you’re strong I told him!” Then I repeated this with his left quad.
He and I alternated quads several times. Then I asked him press is right heel into the bed, which activated his right butt muscles. He alternated his left and right feet several times. A caregiver and I helped him to a sitting position. Then he was noticeably stronger standing up from bed and sitting down in the wheelchair. “See how much better that went! We were just helping you balance – you were doing the work.” I said.
During the transfers we used to talk with Rick about all kinds of things. I told him we weren’t going to talk and I wanted him to just concentrate on feeling his leg muscles working. If necessary I’d say something like, “Remember to lean forward to balance – we’ve got you.” Focusing on his muscles also increased his functional strength.
Every transfer I honestly complimented him on something. His stronger muscles. His improved balance. Sitting up on his own in bed. Moving faster in the wheelchair. Because he believes he is getting better he is in fact improving!
Importance of mental
Rick has a great goal – to live more independently, although he’ll never get back to living completely alone. The mental factors are as important as the physical ones in reaching that goal: motivation and consistency, focus and concentration and belief in himself.
If my 92-year-old friend can get in better shape so can you!
Anti-Aging. I designed and wrote my eBook Anti-Aging 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process to help you slow and even reverse your physical decline by increasing your aerobic capacity, doing intensity training, building and maintain muscle strength and power, increasing your flexibility, working on your balance and reducing bone loss. Anti-Aging incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s. The 106-page eBook is $14.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.