“Use it or lose it!” That’s my favorite phrase during therapy. There are so many reasons and case studies that demonstrate the meaning of what i’m saying here, but please allow me to elucidate. When it comes to older adults aging in their own homes, keeping in the game is the surest way to make sure you never leave the field! This general principle that continuing to participate in basic self-care tasks such as dressing, bathing, and grooming ultimately promotes long term health is well understood.
Let’s look at what these simple tasks do for us. The act of putting on a shirt is tremendously therapeutic in itself. There’s no greater way to maintain your range of motion than actually reaching into some sleeves and pulling a shirt up and over your head. Look at that shoulder flexion and abduction! Then there’s the fine motor control components of grasping the different parts of the shirt and pulling the fabric where it needs to go to wear the shirt properly. These are tasks we’ve done our whole lives, so the simplicity of them is both comforting and unconscious, yet deeply helpful to our continued function.
Speaking of fine motor control, can you think of a more fine motor intensive task than buttoning a shirt? And then there’s zippers, snaps and velcro; all great tools for assessing a person’s ability. In my practice, i’ve noticed that my patients who maintained their fine motor control through knitting or crocheting, haven’t the slightest difficulty with buttons, snaps or zippers. This isn’t coincidence either! There’s a principle to all of this and a physiological basis from anatomy.
Like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, we need an occasional oiling. Unlike our friend the Tin Man, the oil we get is all natural and produced in-house: Synovial fluid! My explanation to patients about their need for movement is as follows, “we’re a lot like the Tin Man and we need to oil our joints, but our joints don’t get oiled without movement which releases our body’s natural oil, Synovial fluid, into our joints.” After this explanation, usually I get the light-bulb effect and my patients recognize why i’ve been pestering them with active range of motion exercises and seemingly neverending tasks.
Regardless of what you do in therapy with your patients, feel free to explain to them the tremendous need we all have to move and the reasons why. If you need further coaching on how it’s done, or would like additional treatment strategies and scripts for phrasing, our upcoming e-book will help!