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Preventing deconditioning in seniors

Understanding deconditioning

Deconditioning refers to all the physical, mental and social consequences associated with inactivity, being sedentary for a period of time or intellectual and social understimulation.

Although its effects are generally reversible, deconditioning has a negative impact on autonomy. Seniors are particularly at risk of deconditioning.

Several complications can also occur with deconditioning. They include:

  • loss of muscle mass and strength or balance and walking problems that increase the risk of falls and fractures;
  • memory loss;
  • confusion;
  • a decrease in cardiorespiratory capacity accompanied by a risk of heart failure and infection;
  • difficulty maintaining the ability to maintain their home, climb stairs, do their usual physical or sports activities, etc.

The accumulation of these complications can even lead to hospitalization. Therefore, it is important to act quickly and not hesitate to call on a health care professional if necessary.

Preventing deconditioning

Although caution should be exercised, seniors are advised to participate in activities that prevent deconditioning.

It is also important to stay active in complete safety by getting vaccinated properly and by following the basic health instructions.

Several simple actions can promote good physical and mental health and prevent deconditioning. The important thing is to maintain a regular routine and a healthy lifestyle.

These actions will help you maintain your physical autonomy, cognitive abilities and keep your morale high. There are three priority areas for action:

Autonomy and mobility

Am I at risk of losing my autonomy and mobility?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I less physically active than usual?
  • Am I less autonomous in some of my activities?
  • Do I have more difficulty getting around, changing position than before (for example, difficulty walking, using stairs, getting out of bed or a chair) ?
  • Do I sometimes lose my balance?
  • Have I had a fall in the last few months?

What should I do if I answer yes to one or more of these questions?

Here are some ideas

  • Stand up every hour.
  • Move your arms and legs by yourself, standing, sitting or lying down.
  • Take every opportunity to move (for example, make your bed, prepare meals, fold clothes, do household chores).
  • Walk indoors or, if possible, outdoors regularly.
  • Do a physical exercise program at your own pace and according to your abilities.

Some practical links

Here are some websites that provide information on autonomy, mobility and physical activity:

Nutrition and hydration

Am I at risk of undernutrition and dehydration?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I been eating less for more than a week?
  • Have I lost weight unintentionally in the last 6 months?
  • Have my appetite or eating habits changed in the last month?
  • Have I lost the desire to make meals?
  • Do I have difficulty going grocery shopping?
  • Am I more tired?
  • Is my urine dark and smelly (concentrated)?

What should I do if I answer yes to one or more of these questions?

If you answer yes specifically to the first two questions, you are at risk of undernutrition, that is, you are at risk of losing muscle mass, strength and autonomy. You must act quickly.

Here are some ideas

  • Eat your favourite foods.
  • Cook meals that are easy to prepare
  • Eat all three meals at regular times
  • Drink regularly without waiting until you feel thirsty.
  • Choose the main course over soup and dessert.
  • Eat protein with every meal and snack: fish, eggs, poultry, meat, milk, legumes, tofu, yogurt, cheese, nuts.
  • Use "Meals on Wheels", a catering service or ask relatives to buy you ready-made meals.
  • Do your grocery shopping online and use the delivery service.
  • Have meals delivered by your favourite restaurants.
  • Take nutritional supplements (for example, Boost, Ensure or other brands) as needed.
  • Maintain good oral health.

Mental and cognitive health

Cognitive health refers to the ability to perceive, understand and analyze the information around us.

Am I at risk of a deterioration in my mental and cognitive health?

Mental health

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Has my interest in some activities decreased lately?
  • Do I feel lonely or am I bored?
  • Do I feel depressed or sad?
  • Do I feel worried or anxious?
  • Do I lack energy or feel more tired than usual?
Cognitive health

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I forget things (appointments, medications, etc.)?
  • Do I confuse days and dates more?
  • Do I look for my words more often than usual?
  • Do I react less quickly during discussions or games?
  • Do I have more difficulty organizing the steps to prepare a meal?

What should I do if I answer yes to one or more of these questions?

Here are some ideas

  • Exercise regularly, according to your abilities (see the Autonomy and mobility section).
  • Eat well (see the Nutrition and hydration section).
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.
  • Get quality sleep so that you feel rested when you wake up.
  • See to your personal care and get dressed every day.
  • Do intellectually stimulating activities and vary them according to your interests. For example, read, play cards, board games or memory games available online or on some tablet or smartphone apps, do a puzzle, do crosswords or sudokus, practice an art, listen to music, sing or learn to play a musical instrument, cook, garden, do DIY projects, knit, surf the web, learn a new language, etc.
  • Allow yourself small pleasures.
  • Set a goal to achieve every day, a meaningful activity that you enjoy and that makes you feel good.
  • Spread the tasks and things you have to do throughout the week so that you keep busy.
  • Break your isolation by contacting a loved one, a friend or a neighbour.

Some practical links

Here are some websites that provide information on mental and cognitive health:

Who do I contact if I need help

If you are worried about your health, contact your family doctor or your nurse.

If you do not have a family doctor or nurse, you are experiencing serious problems and you need advice to take action, contact Info-Santé 811 or Info-Social 811.

Last update: December 21, 2023


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