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6 Exercises for the Bedridden Elderly

6 Exercises for the Bedridden Elderly

When mobility becomes more and more difficult, becoming bed-bound is often a fact for many seniors. But being bedridden doesn't mean that movement is impossible. In fact, exercise becomes even more important to help maintain muscle strength, flexibility, circulation and better overall wellbeing.
Exercises For Bedridden Elderly Featured Image
Exercises For Bedridden Elderly Featured Image
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Exercising in bed comes with its own unique challenges. Lying in bed can result in mild to severe medical complications. It is necessary to ensure optimal muscle movement while preventing harm or injury. Plus, many bedridden patients are simply unable to perform most exercises without some assistance.

If you’d like to see these exercises in action, this video of exercises for bed bound seniors is an oldie but a goodie:

In-Bed Exercises for Everyday Strength

Below are 5 exercises (and how to do them) that can be performed either with or without assistance depending on the degree of mobility of the bed-bound senior. If these exercises are too easy as they are, try adding some light resistance bands to increase the difficulty a little.

1. Arm Lifts

Arm lifts are designed to strengthen the muscles in the arms and the upper body to prevent the further deterioration of mobility. The lift is performed by placing the arms flat on the bed on each side of the body and then lifting one arm at a time from the shoulder while keeping the arm straight. The height of the arm lift and the repetitions depends largely on the ability of the senior.

For seniors who have difficulty with lifting the arm from the shoulder, the exercise can be performed from the elbow. It is recommended to hold the arm in the lifted position for a few seconds.

Arm lifts are simple exercises that can be performed either individually or with the assistance of a caregiver.

2. Leg Lifts

Leg lifts are often more challenging for bedridden seniors. However, the exercise is important to prevent bed sores, strengthen the muscles in the legs and improve circulation.

Circulation of the blood throughout the body but especially to the legs and the feet can be extremely problematic for bedridden patients. Leg lifts can also assist in avoiding unsteadiness when standing after being bedridden for an extended period of time.

The exercise is performed by simply lifting the leg from the bed and holding the position for as long as possible. Legs can either be held straight or bent depending on the abilities of the elderly individual.

While some bedridden seniors can perform small leg lifts without assistance, it is generally recommended to perform this exercise with the assistance of a caregiver for maximum movement and therefore benefit.

3. Passive Mobilization Exercises

These exercises are designed to increase movement and mobility in the joints. Joints that are not moving can become stiff and painful. Passive mobilization exercise increase flexibility, mobility and circulation in the joints and are commonly performed with the assistance of a caregiver who provides the necessary resistance.

The plantarflexion-dorsiflexion exercise is the most common of these exercises and involves pushing the foot into the hand of a caregiver who provides resistance and then flexing or puling the foot backwards. The caregiver may offer assistance in pushing the foot backwards to achieve maximum flexibility.

Elbow extensions may require the assistance of a caregiver to hold the arm gently at the desired height for the exercise to be performed.

Simple stretches can be done in bed too to help get blood flowing and loosen up tight muscles.

4. Active Mobilization Exercises

These exercises are normally performed by the bedridden patient without the assistance of a caregiver. Wrist, shoulder and ankle rotations are examples of these type of exercises.

However, where mobility or stiffness prevents the performance of active mobilization exercises, the assistance of a caregiver may be required.

The exercises are designed to increase mobility, flexibility as well as circulation in the joints and the extremities.

However, it is important to take care with elderly patients who suffer from joint -related health conditions such as osteoarthritis. These exercises may be extremely painful and therefore difficult to perform.

5. Stretching Exercises

Muscles that do not move become stiff and cramped. Stretching and extending the muscles is extremely important for bed-bound patients. The exercises are designed to work different muscles in the body but mainly focus on the arms and the legs. The exercises are normally performed with the assistance of a caregiver who helps with the necessary extension to lengthen extend the muscle.

The hamstring stretch is one of the most important stretching exercise. The caregiver stands beside the bed and lifts the leg upwards, stretching the hamstring muscle located on the back of the thigh. The leg should remain straight without bending of the knees to achieve the best results. The leg should be lifted to a height that is comfortable for the senior without causing any pain or distress.

While the leg is extended and lifted off the bed, the feet can be pointed and then flexed a couple of times, holding each positions for a few seconds. This helps with stretching the calf muscles. Hamstring stretches provide bedridden patients with the flexibility to assist them with turning in bed.

6. Bed Or Side Rolls

One of the most common complications for bedridden patients is the development of bed sores. These sores develop as a result of pressure from lying in the same position as well as a lack of circulation. Bed rolls are a good way to alleviate the consistent pressure while allowing blood flow to the area.

Bed rolls most often required the assistance of a caregiver. Starting with the head and moving down to the shoulders and then the abdomen and lastly the hips and legs, the body is slowly rotated from lying flat on the back to lying on one side. The position should be held for a few minutes which may require support from the caregiver.

To achieve the best results in preventing pressure ulcers or bed sores, this exercise should be performed multiple times throughout the day. At a minimum, side rolls should be performed every morning and before going to sleep at night. The rolls also provide caregivers with a good opportunity to change bedding or linen.

Wrapping Up

All exercises listed above should be approved by the treating physician of the elderly person. It is also important to exercise routinely and recommended to follow an approved program that is specifically designed for the bedridden elderly.

You might also consider some of the simple movement based exercises in tai chi for seniors who have the core strength to remain seated safely.

Here are some other guides I have written about activities for bed bound seniors:

Sources and Additional Resources:

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Scott Grant, CSA®, SHSS®

Scott Grant, CSA®, SHSS®

With over 20 years of experience and certifications as a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)® and Senior Home Safety Specialist (SHSS)®, Scott Grant provides reliable recommendations to help seniors maintain independence through informed product and service choices for safe, comfortable living.

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1 thought on “6 Exercises for the Bedridden Elderly”

  1. Marilyn

    I don’t have much feeling or muscle response from the knees down to my feet. Especially my left leg and foot. My left foot will fold in half when putting pressure on the front of the foot. I’ve strengthened my thighs and my stomach muscles but my lower back and the back of my legs and feet are so weak. I can’t stand freely and can’t walk without a walker. But I refuse to believe that I can’t get through this. I just know I will strengthen those muscles needed to stand upright and walk normally!!!

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