Sensory Activities for Frail Elders – and Their Caregivers

Sensory Activities for Frail Elders – and Their Caregivers

Spice up your activities for those needing special care with sensory activities that are meaningful not only to our elderly, but to caregivers ourselves.  Be forewarned!  If enthusiasm and engagement are what you’re looking for, you’ll get it with these fun and “moving” activities that stir the soul and spirit as well as the body!

Using music, and using it well, is key to the success of some of these activities.  This means that the caregiver should listen carefully to the music he or she chooses to accompany the activities, even to the point of practicing to move in time with the music.  Some of our Agile Aging’s favorite tunes are named below.  You can purchase and download these tunes from iTunes or other online stores. Read more

Six Best Exercises You Never Heard Of

Six Best Exercises You Never Heard Of

by Valerie Garrett

As a young dancer training in ballet and modern dance, I didn’t think much about longevity.  My body was my musical instrument, and I figured if I got it polished and kept it tuned, it would last me a good long time.  Now, at 60, I’m still a performer, dancing with Mountain View’s Academy of Danse Libre, the nation’s leading vintage ballroom dance company and doing a dozen shows a year – some in high heels!

As a movement coach and educator working with the mind-body connection, I study and teach movement to everyone from little children to the fragile elderly.  Along the way I’ve learned some very unique longevity secrets that have helped me and many others to feel great, avoid injuries, relieve pain, and stay active.  Here are some of my favorites – some may surprise you!

Stretch in Bed.  This most basic full-body yawn is the best exercise you can do before you get up in the morning (or even at night).  Babies and animals do it naturally, and so should we.  Just flex and stretch this way and that, slowly and lightly at first.  Reach in front of yourself, over your head.  Fold your knees over your chest and curl up, then stretch your heels away from your fingertips.  Wake up the muscles to support the bones, so those first steps out of bed are secure enough to avoid a stumble or fall.

Go to Hawaii.  Drain tension and improve posture that’s cramped from too much desk our couch time with a free Hawaiian holiday via dynamic imagery. Sit or stand comfortably with bare feet on the ground.  Close your eyes and imagine warm sand beneath your feet.  Wiggle your toes, heels and arches in the delicious warmth. Take a deep breath and notice that right behind you is a warm waterfall, splashing softly on your shoulders and down your back.  Nestle into that water flow and allow your shoulders to drop into the downward streaming flow of the water. Take another breath and observe your tension drain away as you exhale.  Stay there  on the beach as long as you like.  When you are ready to return from your holiday, just gently open your eyes.  You may need to brush some sand from your toes!

Relax your Jaw.  Many of us carry tension in our throat, neck, and jaw that can cause headaches, dental and health problems, and wrinkles.   Finding a neutral posture for your tongue is a surprisingly effective release for your jaw and throat.  Place the top of your tongue lightly up against the roof of your mouth, with the tip of your tongue touching the back of your upper teeth.  As you relax into this posture you will notice an immediate release of your jaw tension. Remind yourself to practice this while you are doing your regular exercise or anytime you might be straining.

Lift your Face.  Ancient wisdom meets modern exercise with facial yoga that eliminates the need for plastic surgery while building tone and expressive mobility to our faces. Here’s a simple fix.  For a sagging throat or jawline, place your tongue in its neutral position, lift the chin, and press upwards with the tongue on the roof of the mouth for several seconds, release, and repeat several times.

Respect your Feet.  Ever hear the expression, “My dogs are barking?”  Keep your pups quiet and happy with daily attention of movement, imagery, and grooming.  My friend, the dancer/choreographer Sybil Shearer (who died at the youthful age of 95!) had a daily practice of circling every bone in her body, slowly, this way and that.  While sitting or standing, extend your leg and very slowly and lightly circle your foot around your ankle a few times.  Change feet, repeat, and reverse.  Try circling just your big toe, or middle toe.  Point and flex your foot.  Take your foot in your hand and give it a little massage at both the arches, under the toes and under the length of the foot.  Make space between the bones with your fingers, then quietly stand. Sensing the connection to the ground through the soles of your feet will help you maintain your balance, posture, and mobility as the years go by.

Dance every day.  Music and movement harmonize the energy fields of the body.  So turn up the music and just move.  You don’t even need a partner. You’ll release those feel-good endorphins, your body will wake up in a new way, and you’ll have renewed energy as well as a boost to your fitness program.  If you can’t dance, who’s to know?  Run with music, walk with music, sing or hum along.  Even if you’re moving to your own drummer, it’s dancing.  So, let’s face the music and dance!

Agile Aging Secret: Dance Every Day!

Agile Aging Secret: Dance Every Day!

Valerie Baadh Garrett, founder of Agile Aging as well as The Movement Academy Project. is a lifelong dancer, still going strong.  Take a look at this photo by Jason Chuang of Valerie dancing with Craig Chen in a performance of “Alle Tanzen” danced with the company of Academy of Danse Libre at a 2012 show in Palo Alto, CA.  “Although it isn’t always easy to keep up the fast pace our directors set in rehearsals, I work hard to train outside the rehearsal studio so I can do my best,” says Garrett.  At age 60, she’s certainly not old, but she is the eldest of the dancers in the young company of 20 – 40 year olds.

Taking advice from her own teachers and mentors, she points to Daniel Nagrin’s book “How To Dance Forever” as inspiration.  “Basically, Nagrin says we must dance every day.  What that means to me is to stay connected to my body’s spaces inside and out, and to how music moves and flows with me.  I do yoga.  I stretch and work out  incognito at my gym, Gold’s Gym in SOMA, where I’m just one forgettable older lady among the eye candy there.  I take special time for the health and strength of my hardworking allies, my feet, which ache for the first time in my life after dancing for hours in heels while in costume with DL (Academy of Danse Libre). I travel a lot nowadays, to China and Taiwan and the east coast, leading workshops in movement for executive leadership, for women’s wellness, for teacher training, for caregivers of the elderly, and for schools and parent groups.  Fortunately, everyone loves to move and to dance with me, so dance is usually a part of my work day too.”

“I’m forever inspired by two special dance teachers in my life, Bella Lewitzky, who was my teacher in my teens and early twenties, and Sybil Shearer, whom I met when she was in her late 80s.  She told me I needed to get back into performing again, at the ripe age of 40 at that time. When I whimpered something about being old, she shook her head at me and shouted, ‘You’re in your baby shoes!”  I’ll never forget that moment.  She was right.”

Here’s a short video of Valerie dancing Etude #1.

Dance every day.  Dance alone. Dance with a pillow.  Dance with your friends and family.  Just shake it loose, and get moving.  Everyone can dance!

More about Valerie here. 

More about Valerie’s upcoming workshop schedule here.

More about Academy of Danse Libre here.

Watch videos of Academy of Danse Libre on YouTube here.

In Hot Water? Reaping the Rewards of Hydrotherapy.

In Hot Water? Reaping the Rewards of Hydrotherapy.

This past weekend I watched a parade of nearly naked bodies at all stages of aging passing, their feet padding across the concrete at my eye-level.  While many jiggled and sagged and hung in strangely fascinating folds, the beauty of the human form shined through each and every person. As I soaked in different hot pools and worked out some kinks I’ve had many insights, new photos, and some new poolside exercises to share. Read more