How to Get Elderly Walking Again

As an older adult, muscle loss and loss of bone density are to be expected. As seniors age, limited mobility is a major cause for concern as it causes muscle loss and reduction in bone density.

Muscle weakness, frailty, disease, and surgeries are the main reasons for many seniors living less active lifestyles. When you’re used to walking around your entire life unaided, learning to walk with a walker, cane, or even using a wheelchair is a struggle.

 

nurse assisting senior stroke patient

 

The world is harder for people with less mobility to get around, but the good news is that there are exercises you can do to increase your mobility.

Regular exercise will allow you to walk with greater ease, feel more stable and be more confident. Aside from flexibility exercises, strength training exercise, and resistance training at low-intensity levels, older patients can improve their walking and mobility with the following tips:

Here are Some tips on how to get an elderly walking again:

1. Get Moving

Older patients are prone to lying or lounging around on their most comfortable recliner or couch all day long. But you and I know that simply sitting around won’t help build muscle. What you need to do is to help your elder parent maintain an active lifestyle – or introduce them to move and get into an active lifestyle as soon as possible.

Helping senior to stand up

This is especially important if the older adult is a stroke survivor, or has had some surgery like knee replacement surgery, hip surgery, etc.

Being active engages your muscles and prevents muscle atrophy.

We understand that starting all over again as you are older can be frustrating to say the least, but once you start on the road to recovery and gain muscle strength, it becomes easier than ever.

Here’s how you can start walking again more enjoyable and easier:

  • Join a senior group
  • Meet people on meetup.com
  • Take walks around the park or neighborhood

2. Get the Required Walking Aid

Elderly patients may be able to walk unassisted, but if your walking pattern is disrupted due to stroke, a fall, or disease, it is highly likely that you may experience gait abnormalities, frailty, and general weakness.

If this is the case, using a walking aid is highly recommended. The right mobility aid can offer maximum mobility while working all your muscles properly.

senior with walking aid

Just ensure that your beloved older adult is relying on the right mobility aid, meaning, if they only need a cane to help them walk, please ensure that they are using a cane and not a walker.

This is because if they use a walking aid that offers too much assistance, they will only be using less of their muscle strength and rely on the walking aid too much.

3. Work on Balance and Walking Speed

Balance is key as your elderly parent starts to walk again. This is because improper balance can lead to slips and falls leading to further injury and bed rest.

A fall can set you back months, and if you break a hip or leg in the process, your mobility can end up worse than ever before.

Proper balance comes from engaging your core muscles, back, butt, and hips.

Here are a couple of exercises that will help an elderly person gain balance:

Standing on One Leg

  • Stand next to a wall or bed. This is to brace yourself when you fall off balance.
  • Try standing on one leg for short intervals of time. We advise that you start with your dominant leg as you start.
  • Repeat the exercise on both sides.

Side Leg Raises

  • Lean on a wall or any sturdy surface.
  • Lift your leg sideways using your hip muscles.
  • Repeat this exercise on both legs.

Back Leg Raises

  • Stand close to a sturdy surface.
  • Lift your leg backward. Ensure that the knee is straight to engage the glutes.

Gentle Yoga

Now, you may already be aware of the many benefits that Yoga has to offer, but for seniors who are just recovering from a knee replacement surgery, hip fracture, or suffering from dementia, gentle yoga is a fun and effective way to counter muscle weakness and get walking again with ease.

4. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Surplus body weight puts more weight on the knees while walking and it is often the most complained about pain in an older adult. The key is to balance exercise with diet as you start helping them to walk again.

Healthy weight for senior

Consult your doctor or a nutritionist who can help you determine your ideal body weight and provide you with a solid balanced diet to stay healthy and keep the extra pounds off.

5. Engage in Strength Training

Even if your elderly parent has never done any strength training exercises previously, it is essential that they start with light intensity strength training to gain muscle strength for walking again.

A personal trainer or physical therapist can help an older adult with strength training.

6. Consult Your Doctor

It goes without saying that it is important to know what your limitations are before moving forward. Before you start any form of exercise, you need to ensure that you don’t have a health condition that requires you to remain inactive for a longer period.

Discuss your mobility with your medical professional and request a referral to a physical therapist who can guide you with exercises or activities you can do to help you with gait training, gait speed, and balance.

The doctor will be able to recommend a highly trained professional to provide you with the help and guidance you need to improve your mobility.

Doctor consultation

When an older adult is engaged in some resistance training or flexibility exercises, ensure that they have a safe environment around them, free from obstacles, and pointy surfaces.

Injuries for seniors can hinder any progress made on mobility and can cause a serious loss of mobility, depending on the severity of the injury.

Learning to walk after a stroke

If your elderly relative is a stroke survivor, they may require more time and effort to regain their walking speed and agility. You can use a quad cane, rollator, or any other walking aid during the process.

Here are some tips for elderly adults to start walking after a stroke.

Focus on the Toes and Legs

It is normal for an elderly adult to experience issues with the toes after a stroke, and this can make walking quite difficult.

What you can do is to try to pull their toes downward with your hands to improve their flexibility.

You can use your thumb and press into the arch of your foot to help your toes extend downward, which will strengthen the muscles over time. Hold this position for about 20 to 30 seconds.

Stretch the Hips and Legs

Your legs and hips will also need exercise to help you regain your balance.

Start with light-intensity exercises initially.  Gradually work your way toward more advanced options as you regain your balance and start to get stronger.

Chair exercise for strength and better balance:

Start by trying a chair exercise that begins by:

  • Stand up straight and find your balance
  • Gently shift your body weight to one side.
  • Swing your other leg up to the side, then balance yourself for about 10 seconds, using the chair as support.
  • Repeat this and switch your legs as many times as possible.

Once you feel confident, you can try this same exercise to relearn walking without the support of the chair. The key is to re-learn how to maintain your balance and to regain strength in your legs without the help of a cane or walker.

Stroke Rehabilitation Exercises

As you’re learning to walk again, try some leg exercises for stroke patients that will restore your body strength. This can involve anything from using a stationary bike to doing simple leg lifts as many times as possible per day. 

Leg lift exercise for stroke patient

Once you start to regain your strength and your confidence, the chances of walking after a stroke will start to increase. Remember to remain diligent and talk to your physical therapist about any concerns regarding your progress.

Lift weights: Try lifting small weights. Start light by lifting one to two-pound weights daily. Soup cans are a great alternative if you don’t have light weights at home. This will help you rebuild the strength in your upper body.

Stretch every day: Do simple stretches every day. Stretching can do wonders for your body’s ability to heal and get stronger. You can try an exercise called chair yoga which will help you stretch without having to be on the floor.

Walk Regularly: If you’re feeling confident about walking more, take a stroll whenever you can to keep your muscles active. We recommend that you avoid sitting for too long to prevent any pain and stiffness.

We understand that learning to walk again is a difficult and slow process, especially for an older adult who has had some serious illness, suffered a stroke, had surgery, or is suffering from dementia and related illness. We hope that the article has given enough insights into how to get the elderly walking again.

About Dr Aarti Nehra

Dr Aarti is an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery) from Baroda Medical College (The Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda). Dr. Aarti has also completed her Masters of Medical Science and Technology from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. As a consultant, she has advised top medical corporations across the medical device and pharmaceutical industries. Dr. Aarti is a cross-domain expert with experience in clinical practice, clinical marketing, competitive intelligence, market strategy and analysis, statistical analysis, and medical research.