Some seniors are lucky enough to be able to afford outside cleaning help at least once a week. Our knees and arms are not what they once were and all that bending and stretching can cause us a basket of aches and pains that we do not need added to the burden of aging. Or should we give in to our aging so easily?
Canadian researchers have discovered that routine housework by seniors has a direct correlation to increased brain fitness in older people. Scientists have acknowledged that any type of physical exercise improves cognitive health as well as physical fitness. Of course, we do know instinctively that exercises such as low impact aerobics and brisk walking are too valuable to curtail. However, scientists are finding that certain household tasks when performed conscientiously are just as effective for seniors’ mental and physical health.
Take for example my friend Sharon. She was forced to begin taking charge of her own housework when COVID-19 struck. Although some of her friends allowed no one into their home except their housekeepers with masks, she refused to let in even a housekeeper. At first, she let the household chores slacken until she and her husband decided to take charge of the situation as they realized they were isolated for the long haul. Here are just some of the activities they began taking care of by themselves. As she did her various chores, Sharon was happy to realize that each activity was an exercise in itself.
Changing the Linen in the Bedroom
The bedroom is the place where the type of bedding varies from family to family. Some folks use just a quilt and wash it ever so often. Others use a flat sheet under the quilt to protect it. Still others use a quilt and a duvet cover which gives the bed a finished look and at the same time protects the quilt or blanket. Sharon uses duvet covers which affords her of some extra bending and stretches. First, she must remove all the linen from the bed. Here are some of the exercises that she accomplishes.
First comes the fitted sheet which must be pulled off the mattress. Next comes the duvet cover that’s pulled off the quilt. The pillowcase is the last which is pulled off the pillow.
Walking & Carrying
After placing the linen in her laundry basket, Sharon must lift the basket and carry it down the two flights of stairs to the basement laundry room. After washing, drying, and shaking out the linen she must carry it back upstairs.
As Sharon replaces the clean linen, she realizes that she is doing a lot of stretching and the first time she did this she flexed muscles that she realized she hadn’t used in a long time. In fact, when she mentioned to her sister-in-law that she was washing, drying, and replacing her linen by herself her sister-in-law was baffled at Sharon’s positive tone of voice. Her sister-in-law could not understand how Sharon was not complaining. “Why should I?” Sharon asked. “I’m getting some easy exercise without leaving the house.”
Pantry and Cabinet Organization
As many of us know, organizing our cabinets takes some deep thinking. Unless you are a perfectionist who has got your cabinets organized on the first try, the rest of us are eternal organizers. Life can always be improved and that includes the most important room in the house, the kitchen.
Bending & Lifting
For most households, only a shelf or the most two is at arm’s length for the homeowner. One or two shelves will be higher and the rest lower which will require a substantial amount of bending, lifting, and stretching to the high shelves and the rear of the cabinets. Those regular food cans are just the right weight as gym weights giving the organizer a chance to actually lift weights.
Reorganizing forces the brain to think and re access a current situation. For example, how can the pantry be rearranged so that I can find something more easily? In which way should I separate the food items? Should all the baking items be on one shelf? If they aren’t used so often, should they be placed on the bottom shelf? Maybe the cans should be placed in the middle shelf since they are heavier to lift? Or maybe I should put them higher up so I will get a workout when I remove them from the cabinet? How old are my spices? I need to check the expiration dates, but there are none. Then I should label the spices from now on with the date purchased so I will be able to tell if they are fresh or not. There are many cognitive queries that a woman must ask herself while organizing her pantry.
Checking out the higher dish cabinets can be an adventure in itself. “Oh my gosh, where did I get that candy dish? I never use it, but I seem to remember it having sentimental value. Yes, I remember it was my grandmother’s.” Sorting through old stuff that is never used anymore can be an intense intellectual activity in itself.
Looking through Old Papers & Photos
This would be more of a mental health pumper than a physical one unless you are the type of person that accumulates large amounts of mail and other paper paraphernalia. In that case, lugging a bag of trash out of the house could constitute some intense physical activity. However, here we will limit this subject to the cognitive aspect.
For optimal mental health the brain must constantly be forming new neural connections. Thinking through what papers are significant to keep, be it recent mail or just plain old papers can be mind boggling to some. An old bill that wasn’t paid could get your mind sharpened to a new way of arranging and paying them. What about those piles of old bills that were paid? Are they still necessary or can they be disposed of immediately?
Photos are a topic that is almost too sensitive to touch on. Who wants to throw away old photos? In this age of computers, there are ways to keep these precious memories without physically taking up space in the home. Photo scanning has become quite popular, and most people have a scanner on their printer that they might not know about. Learning to scan photos is in itself a wonderful mind sharpener. Won’t this put any person in a better mood cleaning up so much clutter? Seniors who attain good moods live longer and healthier.
Cleaning Out the Clothes Closet
This topic is probably the most complicated since deep down we seniors know that we are not wearing those high heeled shoes or tight dresses that are taking up space in our closets. Many of these items are in pristine condition and could be given to vintage clothing stores which are the big rage among the young. But how can we part with these precious items that have brought such joy to us on happy occasions such as dinners or family weddings? These thoughts are all great ways to exercise the mind although hard on the heartstrings.
Even for a senior living in an assisted living facility it is vital for he or she to be exercising both their bodies and brains. There are many ways to do this even while living in limited space. Daily reorganization of key parts of the home will help keep the mind and body in full swing.
For those seniors who can live independently at home there is nothing as satisfying as getting the house to sparkle. The more often an older person changes and washes the linen the more their arms and legs will be working. Even though the back might hurt at first, as one becomes more adept and increases muscle usage the pain should lessen. There are correct ways to move around and a session or two with a physical therapist might be all that is needed.
Cognitive brain activity is essential for keeping seniors sharp and aware. Reading is always effective, but it does take a lot of concentration. The activities we have suggested are only a beginning to a lifelong journey of fulfillment and must be done only as long as the senior is enjoying the activity. If the person finds that it is just too much, he or she should be sure to ask for help instead of quitting. Often some instruction by a competent friend, neighbor or even grandchild in the clearing up of clutter would be so helpful. Learning to scan photos and documents is a great activity for a senior to learn since they will be able to look at them much easier when they are on the computer.
Taking responsibility for household duties induces seniors to get up and get moving. A static lifestyle results in decreased cognitive and physical well-being. We are aware that there are many seniors who will have limited physical activity but as long as the mind is working there is hope. I know seniors who can hardly lift a foot can but manage to wash their floor. We must do the best we can to keep our bodies and brains stimulated and the rest is not in our hands.