Freedom Through Movement
by Kate Shuman, Staff Writer

Caregivers are the diligent keepers of a flame called hope. For every activity that their loved one may feel they can no longer do because of physical limitations and mobility problems, the caregiver still sees incredible potential for new adventures in the areas of physical activities and enjoyment of sports. Just because someone may have mobility problems doesnít mean that they can no longer enjoy the things they once did, it just means that some things need to be approached in a slightly different manner. Yielding to some of the wonderful innovations that have been created to help modify mobility equipment for outdoor activities can help open a door once thought to be closed forever.  

As a caregiver for someone who may be confined to a wheelchair or who has other mobility issues, much relies upon you to help bring your loved one gradually back into the physical world. Sometimes starting with the most simple of physical activities can really make a difference in your loved oneís attitude and confidence level. A good activity to begin with is hiking in one of our countryís many national parks. At least 50 of these parks have created hiking paths that are accessible to everyone, especially to those in wheelchairs. Before going on a hike, research the area that you and your loved one would like to explore. Make sure that any possible accessibility issues are discussed with the park personal ahead of time, to insure a positive experience for both you and your loved one.

There are also many benefits, both physical and psychological, to getting out into the great outdoors. Regular hikes and walks will help make physical improvements, such as strengthening the heart and lungs, along with making other muscles stronger. All of this can lead to improvements of circulation, flexibility and limberness, better balance and range of motion, sharpened senses, improved endurance and coordination, as well as better weight management. Along with all of the physical improvements comes a more positive outlook on life for your loved one. You can also become more positive because of helping your loved one face their disability as a challenge rather than impossibility. Just think, something as simple as a hike or walk can help give your loved one a feeling of empowerment and a sense of accomplishment. But why stop with just a hike or walk? Your loved one may want to pursue new adventures on the ski slopes or revisit an old favorite like diving. With so many technological advancements made to improve mobility equipment, there is an endless sea of adaptable gadgets that can make just about any sport or hobby possible.

Some of the more common activities caregivers and their loved ones can enjoy include: archery, fishing, golf, bowling, working out, hang gliding, swimming, aeronautics, gardening, crafts (needle point, knitting, tapestry, painting, wood work), travel, basketball, hockey, fencing, yachting, cycling (handcycling), canoeing Ö  and the list goes on. Caregivers and their loved ones can enjoy many of the things they always did together, and perhaps take on some new hobbies and adventures as well.

 As a caregiver, itís important for you to help your loved one carefully pace their re-entry back into the physical world. Your loved one may have high expectations of what their physical abilities should be at the moment; thatís not to say that over time their physical abilities wonít improve. Itís best for your loved one to realize what they would like to do in the way of physical activities, by first looking at what they want to do, then they need to ask what it is they can do and what they are willing to do. Finally, they need to know how they might do a certain activity or hobby. With wheelchair accessibility becoming available in more and more public recreation areas, there are many more activities to choose from, so by carefully researching your loved oneís interests and options, youíll both help to create a better experience the first time out.

Among the many rewards that come from being involved with recreational activities and hobbies is the increase of self-esteem given to both the caregiver and their loved one. Also, your loved one, over time, will feel more willing to take chances and able to tolerate stress better. Loved ones can also receive immediate, positive feedback from accomplishing a desired task or activity. By our loved one going out into the community, the general public becomes familiar with them, associating them with their sport or activity, rather than with their disability. In turn, this helps to increase public awareness and acceptance of those with physical disabilities, allowing them to be included in whatever activities they so desire. Returning to the physical world doesnít have to be impossible, but instead, it can be a brand new adventure for caregiver and loved one alike, creating a tremendously powerful and personal experience for both of you, bringing you even closer to one another, further strengthening and solidifying the impenetrable bond of caregiver and loved one.

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