Those suffering from complex medical needs or facing age related decline in muscle strength and endurance are especially prone to fatigue. Sometimes it can be so dramatic and profound that it affects one’s ability to independently manage their own personal care needs such as toileting, bathing and other essential duties. For this reasons, we shall discuss the principles of energy conservation and how they can be applied to overcome low energy levels by maximizing efficient use of existing energy reserves.
Principles of Energy Conservation
Plan and organize your activities
When faced with a certain task it is important to be as organized as possible. Planning your actions before you execute them will save you tons of time and energy.
Let’s use cooking and meal preparation as an example. When making a certain meal, one should follow a recipe to ensure that nothing is missed. This allows one to gather all the food items and cooking utensils needed prior to starting. A higher level of organization will lead to fewer trips to the cupboards or fridge to obtain more items. This saves energy that would normally be wasted making additional and unnecessary walking trips. With more energy now conserved during cooking, one will be able to dedicating their efforts to more important activities like bathing or dressing.
Break larger tasks into smaller activities
Another key strategy of energy conservation is to break larger activities into smaller portions. This will lead to more manageable amounts of work and higher chances of successfully completing the task at hand.
For instance, when attempting to clean one’s home, do one room at a time and evaluate whether you are able to do more or need a break before starting another room. Another example includes the act of eating food. Using one’s larger jaw muscles to chew food is one of the most energy demanding activities people engage in on a daily basis. For people that suffer from chronic fatigue and tiredness, it may be beneficial to exercise portion control and break larger meals into smaller sizes. Eating smaller meals on a more frequent basis will still fulfill one’s caloric intake needs, but it will spread the effort over a larger period of time and reduce overall fatigue.
Incorporate periodic rest breaks into daily living tasks
Now it is important to take frequent breaks if one feels short of breath or tired. Rests can even be incorporated into one’s activities by making some small changes to the way we do things around the home.
For instance, if one is cooking, do it while sitting at the kitchen counter on a chair, perch stool or walker seat. By sitting during meal preparation, large muscle groups in your legs, core and upper body do not need to work to maintain standing balance and have time to recuperate. This will allow you to continue to work towards finishing the meal, but it will also allow you to rest at the same time.
While sitting during activities allows one to continue working in some situations, it may be important to abandon all work for a complete break from time to time. It is essential to listen to one’s body and the signs it gives off that indicate when a break may be needed. If one places too much stress on the body in a short period of time, it will go into recovery mode and you will be less able to complete bathing, dressing and other activities in the days that follow. A more practical illustration of this is when one goes to the gym after a long period of inactivity and tries to conquer every exercise or muscle group. Following such a session, the person will be very sore and their body will be recovering so much that they may be unable to lift their hands above their head (after strength training the upper body) or climb stairs (after leg day). Had the person watched for earlier signs of muscle fatigue in the gym session, they may tone down the intensity, which would have minimized the recovery needed afterwards.
Prioritization more important duties for times when energy reserves are high
It is important to consider that not all activities are created equal. Some are infinitely more important than others and should be on prioritized first.
For example making the bed is very low on the scale of importance, whereas going to a medical appointment is very high. For this reason it is best to skip activities that hold little barring like housekeeping if there are more pressing matters to be dealt with. After coming back from a doctor’s visit, one will likely feel fatigued because the act of going to the doctor, waiting for them and having your concerns investigated can be very demanding both emotionally and physically. As a result, it’s probably best to take it easy the rest of the day. The less important tasks can be attempted on less busy days or when one finds the energy.
We should note one more important item. To maximize success, high priority tasks should be attempted when you have the most amount of energy. Many people feel well rested after a night’s sleep and should attend medical visits in the early morning. However, this varies from person to person. Others may find that they are more suited to energy demanding tasks in the afternoon after their body has had some time to get going. In summary, important things that are very demanding activities are best saved for times when energy reserves are at their highest level.
Improved body positioning as an energy saving strategy for the elderly
Body positioning is an important piece of conserving energy because too much bending and reaching can produce feelings of fatigue, muscle strain and can contribute to shortness of breath.
Because of the way our body is organized, the lungs work optimally when one has an upright posture when sitting or standing. As a result, one needs to pay special attention to their own body mechanics to maximize their energy use. Otherwise, our lungs struggle and work harder to get the oxygen our body needs. As well, our upper bodies tend to be quite heavy. Transitioning one’s core from a bent position back to an upright posture can take quite a bit of energy and effort and can lead to feeling more tired as the day progresses.
Now there many common activities which require bending over. For instance, one typically needs to bend down to tie shoelaces or put on their socks. However, there are some assistive devices that could be utilized to reduce the need for these poor body postures and they can be used to conserve energy. If you are interested in learning more about the different tools, visit our dressing aids page.
Examples of how to apply energy conservation strategies
Dressing and Personal Hygiene
- Dress from a seated position
- Use an electric toothbrush instead of tiring your arm muscles with a manual brush
- Dress weaker limbs first
- Wear clothes that can be put on and taken off easily. For instance, use clothes that have velcro or large buttons
- Sit on a bath stool or bath chair to save energy while having a shower
- Use assistive devices like a sock aid and reachers to minimize the need for bending
- Sit on a perch stool when brushing teeth or shaving at the bathroom sink
- Have a prepared shopping list
- Transport your groceries by pushing a shopping cart rather than carrying the items in a basket
- Place items in more grocery bags rather than loading many items into a single bag
- Consider using a grocery delivery service to have your items delivered to your door
- Clean one room at a time and rest in between rooms as needed
- Consider getting a roomba that will clean the floor for you
- Keep a small trash can in every room to minimize walking to bins in different parts of the home
- Hire a housekeeping service, even if it is once every two or three weeks
Cooking and Meal Preparation
- Minimize walking needlessly to cupboards and fridge for forgotten things by gathering all the materials and food items ahead of time
- When making a meal, prepare smaller portions. It will be easier to lift a bowl of soup rather than a large container of soup.
- Consider purchasing packaged vegetables that have already been peeled, prepared and are ready to consume
- Consider getting a jug tipper to minimize need to lift heavy containers of juice or other fluids
- Consider buying frozen meals that are already prepared and just need to be heated prior to consuming