Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Explained

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal aid program that provides financial assistance and resources to seniors and those with disabilities. SSI is run by the Social Security Administration.

Supplemental Security Income is income-based and delivered as needed depending on the individual and their circumstances. 

How Does SSI Work?

Supplement Security Income requires an application and approval process. If approved, it provides a monthly payment for those with low income and restricted access to healthy resources because of their disability. 

Most U.S. states offer medical and healthcare assistance through SSI as well. This added health insurance assistance can help pay for nursing homes, hospital visits, medical bills, medications, and more. Other added benefits such as state supplemental state income and food assistance apply, depending on the situation.

Elderly couple in wheelchairs, holding hands
SSI requires recipients to have less than $2,000 in assets, for a single person, and $3,000 for a couple.

How Does Someone Get SSI? 

There are several requirements needed to be eligible for receiving SSI. The main requirement is being a child or adult with a disability, being over the age of 65, or being legally blind. You must also have limited income and/or limited access to resources. 

SSI is different from Social Security benefits. Social Security is based on prior work history and income, whereas Supplemental Security Income is mostly based on income (or lack of income).

If you legally worked in the United States for a certain period of time and formerly (or presently) paid Social Security taxes, you qualify.

Where Does SSI Aid Come From?

SSI is provided by the United States Treasury, not by Social Security tax. Funds come from taxes from corporations, income tax, and some state taxes, depending on the state. Employers pay a fixed rate to help fund SSI for the disabled. Federal taxes such as FICA do not fund SSI.

Who Qualifies for SSI?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has all the information you need when looking to apply for SSI. To quality for SSI and benefits, you must be:

  • Blind, disabled, or over 65 years of age 
  • A citizen of the United States, or qualified alien 
  • Have limited access to income and living resources 
  • Not currently under the care of a government institution (such as prisons or mental hospitals)
  • Gives permission for the SSA to inquire about financial records and taxes
  • Fully and honestly complete an application 
  • Not be vacant from the United States for more than 30 days at a time

Only U.S. citizens and qualified aliens are capable of receiving Supplemental Security Income. Being considered a U.S. national, which means you aren’t a U.S. citizen but are still protected by the United States government, still qualifies you to apply for SSI.

A “national” is not a citizen with the same rights as Americans, but can still receive benefits and aid. People from Swain Islands or American Samoa are nationals. 

People who are currently receiving other benefits, such as Social Security, unemployment, or food stamps can still receive SSI, but it might affect the amount you are able to receive monthly.

Qualifications Needed to Receive SSI:

People Over 65 Years Old

“Aged” individuals are adults over 65 years of age. Seniors are often qualifying for receiving Supplemental Security Income for disability resources. Most recipients of SSI are seniors who are no longer able to work fully and therefore have a limited source of income. 

One of the reasons SSI exists is to provide the resources needed for the elderly. Things like housing, caregiver aid, medications, and doctor’s bills are part of SSI benefits. Some states even allow Medicare or Medicaid help for seniors. 

Children and Adults With Disabilities

Disabled children can also qualify for SSI. The parent or legal guardian of the child must apply for them to receive benefits. A child with a disability, which means any ongoing physical or mental condition that severely affects normal functioning or leads to death, can be eligible for SSI.

Applying for child SSI requires state eligibility to review the application as well, in case any added state supplemental aid is available for the child and family. 

The Blind

People with blindness also qualify for SSI. Certain requirements define what “blindness” means for receiving SSI. However, even if you are not legally blind but have a severe visual impairment, you might still be able to apply to receive SSI. 

U.S. Citizenship

A U.S. citizen is an individual who was born in the United States or U.S. territories. A citizen is also eligible to legally work in this country at 18 years of age or older.

Other U.S. citizens include legal immigrants who have been accepted as citizens through naturalization. 

Live in One of 50 States or Legal Territories

To qualify for Supplemental Security Income you must live in one of the 50 states or legal territories. People in the Northern Mariana Islands or the District of Columbia also qualify. Children of an active military parent who is currently serving overseas are also legally eligible.

Haven’t Left the Country for 30 Days or More

A person who leaves the country for a total of 30 days or more won’t be eligible for SSI that following month. This is because SSI is meant to serve people living in the United States and receive benefits while in the U.S. 

Family Member Caregivers of a Disabled Person with SSI

Family and legal caregivers of those with disabilities can even apply to receive Supplemental Security Income. The process of your qualifications is best reviewed at your nearest Social Security office in person or over the phone.

There are many factors that dictate whether or not you’ll be qualified for receiving income and benefits as an SSI care provider. The SSA will need to run a detailed review of you and your patient (or family member)’s medical and financial details.

Since Supplemental Security Income is a form of disability benefits offered on a needs-based scale, the amount of SSI benefits you receive vary greatly on your income situation. 

If you’re the parent of a child with a disability or the adult child of an elder with a disability, it’s possible for you to receive SSI aid if you’re considered the full-time caregiver. You can also apply for a disabled person if they are unable to apply for themselves.

People hand holding eraser for change word "disability" to "ability"
SSI helps disabled people via healthcare aid.

How Does SSI Help People With Disabilities?

The Social Security Administration helps people with disabilities in two main ways. One is through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which provides payroll aid to people with limited employment options due to their personal disability.

The second is through Supplemental Security Income (SSI), as we’ve discussed so far. Aside from supplemental income, SSI provides people with healthcare aid.

Although they will not pay for the cost of caregivers upfront, it can help supplement other aid such as Medicaid, as Medicaid is based on a low income.

How Much Does SSI Pay Those With Eligibility? 

SSI helps the disabled by offering up to $794 per individual per month. For a married couple, SSI offers up to $1,191 per month. However, the amount paid to the individual or couple varies depending on their alternative sources of income or aid, such as Social Security, non-cash earnings, and more.

When reviewing your application and personal information, the Social Security Administration will also conduct a “deeming of resources”. This is when they review certain possessions that are valuable and add to the price of living and income for you or your family.

Things such as your car, life insurance, cash, property, or anything else that can be exchanged for payment all account for deemable resources. The total amount of deemable resources taken out from income status when applying for SSI are equal to $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples.

You can view a detailed list of all the resources that do and do not count when applying for SSI on this Social Security information page.

Do Supplemental Security Income Benefits Pay for Caregivers?

SSI Benefits do not pay directly for the cost of obtaining a caregiver. However, SSI can assist patients in meeting other financial needs while they receive assistance from caregivers elsewhere. 

Since living with disabilities can be difficult, it’s recommended that you seek multiple forms of aid for you or your loved one with a disability. There are many options in the United States to receive assistance, both federally and through the state you and your family live in.

Other programs can help you afford the type of caregivers you need, such as Caregiver Assistance Programs and becoming a paid full-time caregiver to a family member.

Can a Family Member Receive SSI for Taking Care of a Loved One?

Yes, sometimes a family member can apply to receive SSI for providing caregiving services to a  loved one. Caring for a family member with a disability can take up a lot of your time, energy, and financial resources.

That’s why there are options available for those who take personal care of a loved one full-time. Because they are busy caring for their disabled or elderly family member, the caregiver cannot spend normal hours at a regular job that provides consistent income. 

If you’re a spouse of a disabled senior, you might qualify for additional SSI or SSDI benefits. You must be at least 62 years old, formerly dependent on the now disabled person, and eligible to receive government aid. 

Some people even create “care contracts” in which the disabled person allocates a certain amount of income to the family caregiver for their time and service. A stipend or monthly payment may be established within a legal agreement between the caregiver and the patient.

However, this is only advised if you and the disabled person consult a contract from a lawyer to protect each of you from potential legal troubles. When it comes to family and financial matters, things can get messy if left unaddressed or undone. 

Application form with ballpoint pen. Focus on social security number's fields.
You can apply for SSI either online or in-person at the Social Security office.

What You’ll Need to Apply

To apply for Supplemental Security Income, first, you must meet the eligibility requirements:

  • Blind
  • Disabled
  • 65 years or older
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Limited income and resources 
  • Other standards for eligibility

If you meet these basic standards, you will need to apply for SSI through a Social Security office or online. It’s wise to go in person and receive the assistance of a professional SSA worker who knows each step to guide you through. 

They’ll ask for your proof of income, medical records, level of care services required, details of your disability, living situation, and other necessary detailed information. 

Other Things to Know About SSI

Now that you are aware of the basics involved with Supplemental Security Income and SSDI, there are other finer details you need to know when interested in applying for aid. 

States Excluded from Additional SSI

Even though most states have their own additional aid for Supplemental Security Income, some states don’t supplement federal SSI.

The states that do not offer additional assistance are Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, and West Virginia. North Mariana Island, a national territory with the U.S., also does not offer state assistance.

Married Couples

Couples can receive benefits from SSI. They can apply as a couple and receive a higher monthly payment combined if their circumstances qualify them. Spousal care is one of the sections to fill out during the application process.

Apply with an employee at the Social Services department, as they’ll be able to help you with other details such as social security retirement benefits and more. 

Payment Frequency

SSI is paid on the first of the month every month. Again, cash benefit amounts and other aid like waivers vary depending on the application process, the person’s income, and the U.S. state in which they reside. 

Non-Citizens of the United States

Some immigrants and non-American citizens can still qualify for SSI benefits. The requirements are: 

  • Meet the list of requirements of being a qualified alien 
  • Be a national who’s part of the legal U.S. territories 
  • Legal to work in the United States over 18 years of age and receive income

Who Is Not Able to Receive SSI?

You will not be able to apply for or receive SSI if you are:

  • In jail
  • Currently under the care of a public institution (such as a hospital) 
  • An illegal immigrant 
  • A qualified alien who gets your legal status revoked or changed 
  • Have left the United States for more than 30 days at a time
  • Are caught selling redeemable resources for less than they’re worth, in attempts to cheat the $2,000 or $3,000 value limit qualification 
  • Are charged with a felony or have a warrant for your arrest 

Supplemental Security Income and Caregivers 

If you are receiving SSI or thinking about applying for SSI, hopefully this article sets you on the right track toward getting the most benefit out of Social Security disability benefits.

If you still need caregiver services for a disability or are a senior living at home who needs help or home health care, don’t hesitate to call the main Social Security Administration helpline at 1-800-772-1213. 

SSI for Family Caregivers 

If you’re a family member or loved one who’s concerned about providing a caregiver for someone you care about, you can also receive help in finding what you need at your income level. 

You can contact the above SSA helpline number or visit online. You can also look into other options for becoming a paid family caregiver to your loved one. Other programs such as the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provide further caregiver support for those already caring for their family.

How Is Dementia Fatal — And Why?

An increasing leading cause of death among the elderly today is dementia. Dementia is a group of brain degenerative diseases that cause memory and thought impairment. There are different types of dementia that can affect people at various stages throughout old age.

Although there is no specific known cause of dementia, many times it results from the gradual deterioration of the brain which causes a severe impact on cognitive function over time. It’s helpful to know what to expect if you care for someone with dementia.

If left unaddressed, the symptoms of dementia and the changes it causes can be overwhelming and sometimes frightening. Why exactly is dementia so fatal? How does dementia eventually kill you?

What is Dementia?

The term “dementia” includes a variety of conditions that affect the brain. People with dementia experience memory loss, behavioral changes, impairment to cognitive function, damage to the brain, and loss of emotional, mental, and physical control. 

Dementia signs and symptoms progress over time. It might begin with barely noticeable memory loss or occasional forgetfulness. Eventually, later stages of dementia can include total loss of control over the physical body, inability to swallow, infections, and abnormal aggressive behavior. 

As one of the most common disabilities seen in healthcare for seniors, it’s likely you know someone with the condition or at least know someone who has a loved one affected by dementia. Here are some of the signs that are likely to show up. 

Senior man losing parts of head as symbol of decreased mind function.
Dementia goes through various stages depending on the area of the brain that’s affected.

Signs and Stages of Dementia 

Early Signs

In the early stages of dementia, subtle signs begin to present themselves. The person might lose their keys more often, forget directions when driving, or show mood swings. It can often be overlooked and unnoticed as simple “ditziness” or having an off day.

It can be hard to diagnose dementia in the earlier stages. According to the Global Deterioration Scale (GDS or “Reisberg Scale”), dementia experts express the need for updated testing as it’s much better for the individual, caregivers, and family members to catch dementia earlier on. It can be confusing to pinpoint the onset of dementia as it often occurs with co-existing conditions, such as a stroke or physical disease. 

Top traits of the early phase of dementia include:

  • Decrease in spatial direction 
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Ability to still work, socialize and communicate 
  • Decline in judgment 
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion when trying to arrange difficult thoughts or tasks

Mid -Stage

As dementia progresses, the middle stage shows more severe signs of the beginning stage. The person will likely begin forgetting people’s names, faces, and their relationship to them. This relationship memory gap can come and go at different times, depending on the day. 

They may also get easily lost in places like their local grocery store, nursing home, or even their own house. Communication can become an issue as they struggle to find the right words to express what they want to say. Major behavioral changes can occur, such as an introvert becoming suddenly extroverted and risk-seeking, or a nurturing friend becoming hostile toward peers. 

It can become harder to learn new things or pick up new information. Short-term memory becomes nearly impossible to hold on to, while long-term memories begin to surface. It’s very common for someone with dementia to experience a surge of childhood memories they had long forgotten about. This happens because the brain is trying to hold onto stored information so it “fills in the gaps” that short-term memory now lacks. 

Characteristics of mid-stage dementia:

  • Forgetting people’s faces, names, and relationships
  • Forgetting important events or self-care tasks
  • Getting lost and losing personal possessions frequently 
  • Noticeable behavioral changes
  • Difficulty communicating 
  • Hard to learn new things
  • A frequent flood of memories from childhood or the distant past

Late-Stage Dementia

When dementia has taken its toll on a person and they are nearing death, the signs and symptoms are a defining part of their everyday being. They are unable to take care of themselves and require constant supervision. The person can’t walk, feed or bathe themselves. Nor can they make decisions or communicate their most basic needs. Their body cannot control simple functions such as bowel movements, speaking, or even swallowing. 

One of the reasons dementia leads to death is because of the characteristics of this stage. There are severe physical needs that if left uncared for, will cause the person to die. Although they are still conscious to some extent, they are no longer able to function on their own.

The later stages of dementia are made up of traits such as:

  • Loss of control over body function 
  • Major behavioral and personality changes
  • Inability to care for self
  • Losing connection with reality
  • No longer able to track time, space, or personal needs

How Does Dementia Kill You?

Because of the nature of advanced dementia, the brain cells increasingly die off which affects every aspect of the individual. Not only does the person go through a major decrease in quality of life, but the reality is their body also begins to slowly decay.

Underlying Conditions

One of the biggest causes of death with dementia is co-existing or underlying conditions. Many people with dementia also have other medical problems that dementia either worsens or contributes to. 

For example, someone with heart disease or previous heart attack might have a harder time with dementia because their body will not be able to sustain them as well as someone with an otherwise normal medical history.

Another person with osteoarthritis might experience more severe physical symptoms during the mid or final stages of dementia as their bone mass is already dwindling. Pre-existing mental health issues can also play a huge role in dementia progression.

Health conditions can result in sooner death in someone with dementia. As symptoms accumulate, a person loses touch with their environment and ability to sustain health. 

Brain Cell Loss 

Dementia is fatal because it eventually results in total deterioration of brain cells and proteins responsible for human functioning. There is no way to keep living an active life if the physical matter in the brain is dying off day by day. That might sound bleak, but with dementia, it is important to know the reality of the condition and prepare to make the most out of the remaining time one does have.

Accidents

Since all stages of dementia cause impairment to thinking and reasoning, accidents are one of the most widely seen causes of death among patients. It is not uncommon for people with dementia to forget things like leaving their stove or oven on, resulting in a gas leak or fire hazard. 

Additionally, accidents might happen during everyday tasks that cause bad falls, slips, or broken bones. Drowning in the bath or dangerous improper use of household appliances can lead to disaster. This is one of the many reasons it’s so important for people with dementia to receive full-time dementia care.

Aspiration Pneumonia and Choking

Those with later stage dementia eventually cannot swallow food and water on their own. This is another major cause of death. People can choke and die. It might sound silly, but it’s a serious and quite common cause of death among dementia patients. 

Something called aspiration pneumonia is rampant in dementia cases. This is a type of pneumonia that develops after someone gets food or liquid stuck inside of their lungs. Without realizing it, patients can inhale food particles when eating. Over time, these particles cause irritation and infection inside of the lungs. When sickness becomes too severe, fluid builds up and the lungs cannot breathe anymore.

Infections

The most common infections among people living with dementia include UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections), bedsores, chest/lung infections, and skin infections. All of these can lead to more serious issues if they don’t have the care they need to properly resolve infections.

Unsanitary Living Conditions

When a person with dementia cannot take care of themselves, their living conditions can become unsanitary. Some patients have been hospitalized for infected wounds left unaddressed, blood infections, skin diseases, or living with harmful mold or pests in the home. Since the person doesn’t have the awareness to clean up after themselves or feel concerned about lack of sanitation, it can sometimes result in death.

alzheimer's disease with MRI
MRI scans can be used to predict which patients with cognitive impairment may eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Different Types of Dementia 

Alzheimer’s Disease 

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia in the United States. It’s also the leading cause of death among dementia patients. The National Institute on Aging claims Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death among Americans as a whole.

Alzheimer’s is characterized by a decline in cognitive function in elderly people. The onset can be between the ages of 30-60 years old, on average. It results from a loss in the connection between neurons (chemical messengers) in the brain. Symptoms include memory loss, strange behavior, and language complications. 

Vascular Dementia

In anatomy, “vascular” has to do with the blood vessels. The term applies to anything that carries blood or oxygen through the body. Therefore, Vascular dementia is one of a blockage or lack of blood or oxygen to the brain. 

If an aging person experiences a lack of blood flow for whatever reason, it can contribute to loss of brain function, resulting in dementia. A person with vascular dementia loses their normal thinking capacity and struggles with memory, disorientation, and physical numbness. 

This type of dementia is the second most common type of dementia, but it is often left undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Because it’s so misdiagnosed, it coincides with the other most common among dementia disorders with another type, called Lewy Body dementia.

Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)

“Lewy bodies” is the term for a type of abnormal protein buildup in the brain that is often seen in Parkinson’s disease. These proteins, Alpha-synuclein, have specific roles in a healthy brain to carry out memory tasks. 

However, if these Alpha-synuclein proteins build up too much, it can cause loss of nerve cell connections that the brain needs. If Lewy bodies are present, a type of dementia can form called LBD or “Parkinson’s dementia”. 

Aside from normal dementia symptoms, dementia with Lewy bodies can show other signs. These include hallucinations, stiffness in the body, tremors/shaking, and a flip-flop of attitudes and behaviors.

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)

Another type of dementia is Frontotemporal dementia. This is mainly characterized by the heavy loss of nerve cells in the brain’s frontal lobes. 

People with Frontotemporal dementia experience one of two major patterns. The first is a loss of language, comprehension, and communication, as the part of the brain that controls this is slowly deteriorating. The second is drastic changes in personality and behavior. Each can affect individuals differently from ages 40-60.

There is a distinct difference between FTD and Alzheimer’s disease. Although some symptoms might seem to be the same, FTD is usually one of the syndromes connected with early-onset dementia. Whereas Alzheimer’s disease is more common among elderly people, both types of Frontotemporal dementia are usually diagnosed among people ages 45-65.

Why Does Dementia Lead To Death?

As sad as it is, all forms of dementia are fatal. Eventually, both the brain and body can no longer keep up with the damage caused by the loss of cognitive function. But the disease does not have a specific life expectancy. 

Someone with dementia can continue to go about their life for years after diagnosis. Alzheimer’s Association states that dementia is a progressive or “slow” disease. This means it takes a long time for dementia to finally take its final toll and end in death. 

Some people with dementia live only several months to a year after receiving a diagnosis. Others might end up living semi-normal lives for up to ten years after being diagnosed. It all depends on the person, their health condition, the type of dementia the person has, and the level of care they can receive throughout the remainder of their lives. 

How Do People Get Dementia? 

The exact cause of dementia is unknown, and there may very well be no particular thing to blame. Many complicated factors come into play when it comes to diagnosing dementia, as well as any cognitive issue in the brain. 

Aside from the different types of dementia and their above-mentioned possible causes, personal health also plays a major role in brain decline. If no known injury or defect is detected, an unhealthy lifestyle can contribute to the development of dementia during older age. 

Are There Any Treatments for Dementia?

At this time there is no treatment for dementia. There is only medical care that can help manage symptoms and support people through their gradual decline. 

The options for proper medical care with the diagnosis often include specialty caregivers, individual and family support groups, healthy diet and exercise, and frequent check-ins with your doctor. 

Depending on which stage of dementia you or your loved one is in, the level of care required will vary. Someone in the earlier stages might need little to no care if symptoms are mild and not affecting daily life.

On the other hand, someone in the final stages of dementia will most certainly require 24/7 caregiving and constant supervision. If they don’t have the proper care they need to avoid a risk factor such as choking or falling, it could lead to death. 

Elderly woman hands putting missing white jigsaw puzzle piece down into the place as a human brain shape
Many risk factors of dementia can be managed through lifestyle changes or appropriate medical treatments.

Is Dementia Preventable? 

For preventing dementia, the CDC’s recommendation is to live a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthy, organic foods and drink plenty of filtered water. Malnutrition has been shown to contribute to dementia risk. 

Exercise regularly and make sure to keep moving your body to stabilize mood, optimal brain function, and keep your muscles & bones strong. Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol if possible. Go outside and enjoy nature as this regulates the brain as well. 

It’s also recommended to engage in mindful activities that promote relaxation and decrease stress. Meditation, spiritual practices, or breathing exercises can help avoid stress in daily life (exercise also helps with stress management). 

Having a hobby that stimulates your brain is also a great prevention method. Reading, taking classes, learning new skills, and fulfilling recreational activities all challenge the brain to keep performing at its best. 

It’s most beneficial to start such healthy habits at an earlier age and continue it in your daily routine for a lifetime. You don’t have to do everything perfectly, but a little bit of health-promoting tasks every day can keep you in ideal shape physically and mentally. Such habits have been shown to help prevent the onset of dementia.

What to Do if Your Loved One Has Dementia 

It can be extremely difficult to watch someone you care about slowly lose themselves over time to dementia. Worldwide, there still tends to be some major misunderstandings about what exactly dementia is and how it affects people. Unfortunately, every type of dementia not only affects the individual diagnosed with it but their family members and loved ones as well. 

If your loved one has dementia, being aware of what to expect is the first step. Coming to terms with the disease is necessary for your loved one and your well-being. 

Seeking the professional care your loved one needs is crucial as it can keep them as comfortable as possible throughout all stages of dementia. Up until death, it’s important to appreciate as many moments as possible while they are still here and functioning.

Although dementia is fatal, there are plenty of healthcare and support resources to ensure you and your family enjoy the remaining lifespan of the dementia patient to the best of your ability. 

10 Best Back Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

A healthy spine and back are essential for almost every movement in daily life. In childhood and young adulthood, people tend to not realize the importance of back strength.

Over time it’s quite common to give in to what feels comfortable: slouching, sitting, and remaining sedentary. It’s easier to neglect the everyday habits that keep our health working for us instead of against us.

Why Is Back Pain So Common?

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) claims that 65-85% of people over the age of 60 experience musculoskeletal and/or back pain. That is a huge percentage of people suffering from pain and feeling a lesser quality of life than they desire. But why is this so common, especially now that modern medicine only keeps getting better?

Even though back pain can be caused by a long list of issues, one of the most overlooked reasons is one’s lifestyle. In a Swedish study of thousands of adult subjects from 20 to 70 years of age, back pain was reported higher in those who had a less active lifestyle.

“An object in motion stays in motion”, as the famous Newton’s First Law says. When someone stops having physical movement as a regular part of their life, the body weakens. If the muscles, tendons, and ligaments aren’t stretched and strengthened often, the tissues become stiff and weak. Eventually, this can cause mobility issues not only in back muscles but throughout the body. 

A senior person in a gym doing back exercise on Swiss balls
Regular exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy spine.

Best Back Exercises to Help Seniors

If you’re aging and you find back pain to be a persistent issue, remember it’s completely common among millions of people today. Does that mean you have to remain this way forever? Absolutely not! Although you might not be able to reverse the damage of bad posture over the decades, there is hope.

Practicing some of these 10 best back strengthening exercises for seniors can support your body, mind, and stability through the best years of your life to come.

Cat Cow Stretch

“Cat-Cow” (also known as Cat Camel) is a gentle exercise that is most popularly known through modern yoga. It helps stretch the abdominal and hip muscles while strengthening the core, lower back, and neck. It’s done in a fluid, repetitive motion that is easily synced with the breath, therefore relaxing to the nervous system. 

1. Begin in a comfortable position on all fours (weight is on your knees, shins, and hands).

2. Make sure your back and neck are straight, but not straining. Relax.

3. Taking a steady inhale breath, your neck and head gaze upward, and your hips and tailbone mirror in direction. Arch your back in the shape of a “U”. 

4. When you feel the subtle stretch and your breath is full, you’ve completed the “cat” pose. Now move onto “cow.”

5. During your exhale breath, release your head and your bottom down toward the floor. With your hands and knees, gently push into the floor as your spine arches up in the shape of a rainbow.

6. In the “cow” pose you should feel your ab muscles engaged, lower back stretching, and a slight curve in your neck.

7. On your next inhale, repeat the cycle. Continue the rhythm, “cat, cow, cat, cow”.

8. Repeat 8 times for up to 3 sets.

Man doing bridging exercise, lying on his back on black mat
Glute bridges are a great way to strengthen your spine, core, and legs.

Glute Bridge

A bridge exercise is very simple and adaptable once you learn it. A bridge stretches your hips and thighs while strengthening your core (abdominal muscles) and glutes (butt muscles). The glute bridge is great for hip flexors, which help you walk, stand, and drive. 

1. Start by laying on your back on a comfortably-padded floor, such as a carpet or yoga mat. Bring the soles of your feet to the floor with your knees pointing up to the ceiling. Your arms are on the floor, along the sides of your body, shoulders dropped away from the ears.

2. Engaging your outer hips and butt, push your hips up to raise off the floor slightly. Raise your hips and pelvis as high as you can off the floor. You may feel your core engage, too.

3. Gently lower your hips back down to the floor. Release your muscles and relax a second.

4. Repeat the exercise 10 to 12 times.

Arm Raises

Whether sitting against a wall or laying on a mat, arm raises are a good exercise for improving posture. This movement strengthens the shoulders, scapula (shoulder blades), and upper body muscles.

1. Lay on your back in a comfortable position. You may also try arm raises sitting straight up against a wall or bed frame.

2. With your arms relaxed at your sides, steadily lift your right arm until it’s pointing straight up in the air as if you’re raising your hand.

3. (If you have any pain raising your hand all the way, it’s okay. Try doing half the motion, pointing your arm straight out from your chest.)

4. Steadily lower your arm back down to its starting position.

5. Do this same motion with the other arm on your left side, raising and then lowering.

6. Repeat each side 8 times, for up to 3 sets.

Neck and Chest Stretch (Chair)

The neck and chest are two parts of the body that take a toll with poor posture and weakened muscles. The seated neck and chest stretch is an effective way to relieve tension while working the supporting muscles (scapula, neck, and obliques).

1. Start in a comfortable seated chair position with feet flat on the floor. 

2. Reach both hands behind your head, elbows pointing out like a triangle. Clasp your fingers together to support the base of your neck.

3. Gently gaze upwards, allowing your head to lift slightly and your chest open.

4. Inhale one breath.

5. On the exhale, move your abdomen to lower your right elbow down slightly toward the floor. Your left elbow will raise and your right side will feel a nice stretch.

6. Inhale as your rise back to the beginning position.

7. Exhale and move the other side: left elbow down slightly toward the floor and right elbow pointing up, feeling the stretch on the right side.

8. Repeat 5 times for up to 3 sets.

Shoulder Shrugs

Shoulders play a huge role in posture which can affect upper back pain. Including shrugs as regular strengthening exercises for seniors is just as important as focusing on the lower and middle back.*

1. Begin seated or standing straight up, whichever is more comfortable for you.

2. Raise your shoulders toward your ears. You might feel slight tension in your neck.

3. Release and relax your shoulders down to your neutral position, shoulders away from your ears.

4. Repeat several times. For an extra challenge, use light dumbbells during a few of your sets.

5. Make sure to follow this routine with gentle neck stretches to relieve any extra tension after this strengthening work.

Hip Hinges

When bending over, backs are not supposed to be the only part that does the bending. This is how we strain our backs. The spine is ideally to be kept straight and supported by the hips, legs, and core muscles.

This is why hip hinges are a much-needed exercise for supporting the back during everyday movements. Learning this movement improves your range of motion and can prevent future lower back pain.

1. Start by standing straight with feet shoulder-width apart.

2. Keeping your core engaged and spine straight, bend your knees gently to lower as you point your hips back. 

3. If capable, you can reach your arms down to give the lower back a deeper stretch. Watch for balance and your flexibility, though.

4. Keeping the back straight, “hinge” your hips back up, and stand in starting position.

5. Repeat 10 times, making sure to keep your back straight and focusing on the hinging at the hips.

Reverse Leg Lifts (Standing)

Doing reverse leg lifts while standing is great for the glutes and lower back. Most large movements involve the lower back and legs so the two must go together during exercise. 

This is a more advanced movement, so it’s okay if you need to work your way up to it. When doing reverse leg lifts, make sure to move your leg mostly by the strength of your abdominal muscles to get the most benefit.

1. Begin by standing straight up, holding onto something sturdy for balance. 

2. Engage your core and lift your right foot off the ground slightly, pointing your right leg straight back behind you. Hold for 5 seconds and return your leg underneath you, placing your foot on the floor.

3. Repeat with the left leg, hold for 5 seconds, making sure to remain steady and keep your core stabilized.

4. Do the same movements 5 times on each leg for a series of 3-5 sets.

Bird Dog

Another intermediate strengthening move for seniors is a hyperextension called the “bird dog”. Hyperextension is when the lower back and upper back are working together and increasing overall muscle support. The bird dog is excellent for strengthening while improving balance and coordination.

1. Start on all fours: hands and knees on the floor. Line up your hands underneath your shoulders, and knees under your hips for good form. 

2. Lift your right leg and point it back behind you, aligned with your back. Notice the weight shift of the rest of your 3 supporting limbs.

3. Once you’re comfortable with this balance, lift your opposite arm (left) and point it straight ahead of you, arm aligned with your head.

4. Hold the balance here for 5 seconds, and release both your arm and leg back down to the floor.

5. Reverse the opposing sides and hold the balance for 5 seconds, then return to all fours again.

6. Repeat 10 times, remembering to maintain stability in your core. A little wobbling is normal. If you lose balance, keep trying until you can hold.

Standing Lumbar Extension

This straightforward extension is another full-back exercise for nearly any level. Once you can do the basic move, you can increase flexibility and bend further. This will help with strengthening the muscles supporting your spine as well as giving more flexibility to your back.

1. Start by standing up with good posture, feet facing forward, and arms at your sides.

2. Place your hands on your hips for support. 

3. Using your ab muscles for support, bend your lumbar spine backward, creating a decent stretch throughout the rest of your spine.

4. Hold for 3 seconds then return to the starting position.

5. Repeat 8-12 times. 

6. If necessary, follow with hip hinges or forward bends to stretch after these lower back exercises.

Knee-to-Chest

The knee-to-chest routine is an introductory core exercise. It also stretches the back muscles and hamstrings. This move is simple and can quickly relieve low back pain. This should be done gently and slowly– it’s more of a relaxing stretch than a strength workout, so enjoy it a little bit each day.

1. Lay face-up on a padded mat on the floor to start, with your legs extended out as if about to sleep. You can put a pillow under the small of your back for extra support if needed. 

2. Lift one of your legs slightly, then bring your knee in toward your chest. Hug the leg in closer to your chest, feeling the lengthening of your back muscles and hamstring. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Remember to breathe.

3. Release and return your leg to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg and hold for 5-10 seconds. Return to the floor.

4. You can try to do both legs at a time for a more well-rounded stretch that feels good on the back.

5. Repeat 8 times and rest.

How Often Should Seniors Do Back Exercises?

The key to strengthening the back for seniors is consistency. As with any other workout program or good habit, a little bit every single day is the best way to reap the benefits. Instead of trying to do too much all at once, do less, but more often. 

For example, you can try to practice 5 of these exercises at least 3 to 5 days per week. That way, you build up stamina and familiarity both in your body and mind. Overall, including your routine as part of your lifestyle will have the most rewarding, long-lasting effect on your overall health.

Talk to your doctor beforehand if you need help creating an exercise plan that focuses on your back or any other area of the body. A professional can advise you on best practices and how to prevent injury.

They also can guide you based on your specific physical condition and current health status. The suggestions mentioned above are simply options for any older adults who want to take charge of their fitness.

Osteoporosis
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, worldwide, 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 years and 1 in 5 men will experience osteoporotic fractures in their lifetime.

Common Back Ailments In Seniors

  • Spinal Fractures: Many people over the age of 70 suffer from some kind of spinal fracture at some point. This can be very painful. Sometimes people with spinal fractures don’t know the source of their pain and it can be hard to diagnose. Luckily, many spinal fractures heal on their own. But prevention is key here, which a strong body can assure.
  • Hyperkyphosis: Kyphosis, also known as Hunchback, is when the bones in the spine weaken to the point where they change shape and curve incorrectly. It affects the posture of the upper and mid-back. It can be painful and uncomfortable. Hyperkyphosis is commonly a result of spinal fractures that were left unknown or unaddressed. 
  • Osteoporosis: Osteo meaning “bone” and -porosis related to “porous”, this condition is a weakening of bone mass. Keeping the muscles and bones healthy with movement can prevent and relieve spinal Osteoporosis symptoms.
  • Sarcopenia: As we age our physical structure gradually declines. But sometimes people experience a condition called Sarcopenia. This is a loss of skeletal muscle and tissue, which can be very painful. Adding some strength to the muscles can decrease this condition from worsening.
  • Disc Degeneration: Many people over 50 experience disc issues in their spine. Discs act as cushions or “bumpers” that allow back flexibility and protect the vertebrae from injury. If these discs degenerate or slip, they can cause serious problems. Keeping the back healthy and strong allows the discs to stay agile to support your spine.
  • Spinal Stenosis: Another painful condition is spinal stenosis. This affects nerves and bony matter within the spinal canal. It can eventually compress the nerves and cause constant tingling, numbing, or throbbing pain. Sometimes surgery is required as treatment.

What To Avoid

Just because an exercise program or routine is known as a safe back exercise does not mean it’s safe for all seniors. 

Disclaimer: When seeking back strengthening exercises to help resolve pain or to maintain physical fitness, pay attention to your body. If it’s hurting too much, the exercise is too much for you. Try a modification.

Don’t attempt fitness or medical advice unless it’s approved by your health care provider or physical therapist. Pushing yourself too much can lead to worsening pain or bodily damage.

If any movement is too much to do on your own, ask a caregiver or trainer to help you workout to improve back strength.

Making Your Exercise Routine Work For You

There are many simple exercises that seniors can use to strengthen the back. You might have to try a few different ones to see what works best for you in the shape you’re in.

Even though it might seem discouraging to start exercising when aging, there are great benefits that come with healthy movement. The stronger your back, the longer you’ll have the physical support you need to enjoy life.

10 Best Knee Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

One of the most common ailments during aging has to do with joint and knee pain. Since the knees support everyday physical functioning, it’s important to keep them healthy and mobile.

Basic tasks such as walking, sitting, and supporting smaller physical movements depend on the mobility of the knees and legs. Depending on the lifestyle of each individual, the knees can take more impact than actually necessary.

Knowing the optimal exercises and postures which involve the knees can prevent and sometimes even improve the condition of the knee joint. With age comes more wear and tear on the body. Since the knees are what support the upright body, they can be prone to pain and weakness in seniors.

Knee Problems Among Seniors

Many seniors all over the world experience knee issues. In the medical field, the top recurring knee problems that are seen include:

  • Tendonitis: Inflammation and swelling of the knee joints caused by overuse or improper use of the knee. It can be most often seen among those with an athletic background.
  • Osteoarthritis: Cartilage in the bones and joints breaks down over time. Osteoarthritis causes weakness, pain, stiffness and can lead to further injury. 
  • Sprains: Weakened joints or muscles can lead to sprains more easily. Knee sprains are often seen throughout aging as the body is working harder to support its weight despite the gradual decline. 
  • Falls: Knee pain and deterioration are a leading cause of falls among older people. Because the knees support a lot of weight of the entire upper body, it makes falls and accidents more likely to occur. Even the simplest tasks can become risky when the knee isn’t as strong as it used to be.

Even though we can’t always control what happens to the body, there are preventative actions just about anyone can take to support their knees through old age. 

Two elderly people on mats.
Stretching is a great way to reduce or even avoid knee inuries.

Preventative Tips For Knee Strengthening Exercises

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Every step someone takes puts pressure on their knees. Walking requires the tendons, ligaments, and muscles to carry out specific movements. Cartilage in the knee, called the meniscus, helps to absorb the impact felt during each step, stumble, or shock.

Having excess body weight can add pressure and impact to not only the knees but the entire body. Being overweight is one of the leading causes of physical injury and health decline. The Department of Health at Harvard University suggests losing weight or sustaining a healthy weight as one of the best ways to prevent knee ailments among seniors.

Have a Regular Workout Routine

Exercise is not about how much you can handle. It’s about being consistent and deliberate with your health. Including knee exercises in your regular workout routine will help them age well with you, preventing early deterioration and injury.

Healthy habits are key to overall health! Make it a regular thing, like bathing or brushing your teeth. Aim to exercise 3-5 times per week.

Avoid Injury 

With any physical fitness routine, it’s essential to know what proper form looks and feels like. When performing an exercise, there is a right and wrong way to carry out each movement.

Doing a stretch or a strengthening exercise the wrong way can cause damage to your body. Before doing new or more challenging exercises, make sure you have someone who can guide you in proper form to prevent injury.

Stretching and Mobility

When it comes to knees, strength is important. But it’s just as important to stay flexible, balanced and loosen the tension surrounding the knees. It’s recommended that you include basic stretching and balance exercises with any strength goals you’re trying to achieve.

Even as you focus on strengthening, you don’t want your body to become too tense that it can’t move.

Why Exercise the Knees?

Physical activity is essential at any stage of life to maintain healthy functions of the body and mind. If you need support getting your legs in better shape, here are some of the most practical ways to exercise your knees.

10 Knee Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

1. Calf Raises

Calf exercises help your supporting muscles in your calf and back leg, taking less pressure off your knee when standing and walking. 

These exercises can be done by simply rising on your tippy-toes then slowly lowering your heels to the floor. Or you can do more of a challenge through these steps:

1. Start by standing on a step, workout stool, or curb. Make sure you have something to hold onto to support your balance. Let the back of your heels hang off the edge of the surface slightly.

2. Rise on your toes, allowing your heels to come up. You’ll feel your calf muscles flex.

3. Slowly lower back down, allowing your heels to go a little bit lower than the surface you’re standing on. You’ll feel a subtle calf stretch.

4. Repeat calf raises 10 times for up to 3 sets.

2. Knee Extensions

Extensions are beginner-friendly. Alternatively, you can make them more advanced. They help strengthen the quadriceps muscles which carry out movements attached to the knee.

1. Sit in a chair upright with your feet flat on the floor.

2. Keeping yourself seated, raise your right leg off the floor and extend it out in front of you.

3. You’ll feel your thigh and quad muscles working. Hold for a count then lower back to the floor.

4. Switch and raise your left leg. Hold, and return to the starting position.

5. Repeat for 10 counts on each leg, up to 3 sets.

3. Standing Knee Flexion 

Knee flexions help strengthen the hamstring muscles. These exercises are easy to do and help improve balance, lower body strength, and can improve gate.

1. Begin standing with a bar or chair in front of you to hold on to for support.

2. As if you’re trying to stand on one foot, raise your right foot off the floor, bending it back behind you at the farthest angle you can. 

3. Straighten your leg back down to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.

4. Repeat the routine on the left leg 10 times.

5. Do up to 3 sets on each leg.

4. Leg Raises 

If you want a knee exercise that won’t strain your leg muscles, straight leg raises are a great beginner option to try. This simple movement builds strength in the quads and hamstrings which support the knee’s mobility.

1. Lie on your back on the floor with your legs out straight.

2. Point one leg up toward the ceiling, placing the foot flat on the floor toward your butt. This will be your supporting leg.

3. Keeping your other leg straight out, raise it as high as you can to align with your opposing supporting knee. You’ll feel your muscles working to lift it.

4. Lower your straight leg back to the floor. Repeat 10 times.

5. Switch legs and repeat on the other side. Complete up to 3 sets.

5. Wall Squats

If you have confidence in your balance, here’s an intermediate move to try. Wall squats challenge the strength of your upper legs as well as your glutes and knees.

This is a great exercise to build and maintain your overall lower body strength.  If this exercise causes you joint pain, stop and try a different exercise. 

1. Begin standing, arms at your sides, with your back straight against a wall.

2. Keeping your back against the wall, slowly lower yourself down by bending your knees. Keep your feet and knees aligned, feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure your back and pelvis are aligned.

3. Hold the contraction for 3 to 10 seconds. You’ll feel a slight muscle burn. 

4. Still keeping your back against the wall, slide yourself back up to a standing position. 

5. Repeat 10 times, up to 3 sets per day, depending on your fitness level.

6. Step-Ups

Classic step-ups are great for cardio and balance while working out the legs. This exercise is modifiable and exactly how it sounds: you simply step up onto a higher surface.

1. Stand straight with a workout stool, stair, or low curb in front of you. If you need help balancing, use a chair or ask a caregiver to help spot you.

2. Step up onto the step with your right leg, then your left.

3. Step back down with your right leg, then your left.

4. Repeat 10-12 times for up to 3 sets. On every other set, start with the opposite leg.

7. Side Steps 

Side steps are easy and help maintain balance and mobility. You can do these basically anywhere without any special equipment. 

1. Stand in a neutral stance with your feet hip-width apart. 

2. Step to the side with your right leg so your legs are wide apart.

3. Then bring your left leg next to your right. 

4. Reverse the movement: Step to the side with your left foot, then bring your right leg back in.

5. Repeat 10-12 times for up to 3 sets.

For a more aerobic workout, use some ankle weights when performing side steps.

8. Resistance Band Squat Steps 

Working up to more intermediate movements, the resistance band side squat is similar to the side steps mentioned above. Squats will require more balance and lower leg strength, with the resistance band helping gain mobility and knee stability. It’s best to perform this exercise with a fitness trainer or guide.

1. Place a resistance band below your knees. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart.

2. Slightly bend your knees as if you’re about to squat. 

3. Step your right leg out, keeping your knees bent. You’ll feel your knees, outer legs, and glutes working.

4. Maintaining the position level, bring your left leg in next to your right. 

5. Repeat these side step quats along the room as far as you can, about 10 steps.

6. Now reverse it. In the semi-squat position, step your left leg out and bring your right leg in to match it. Repeat until you get back to where you started, side-stepping about 10 times.

7. Rest after the full set. Repeat up to 3 times if desired.

9. Clamshell (advanced)

The clamshell is a tougher exercise that works the glutes, hip flexors, inner & outer thighs, and knees. If you have shoulder or neck problems, ask your doctor before trying this exercise, or get a fitness guide to help you through it.

1. Lay on your side with your legs at a 45-degree angle, one leg stacked over the other. Your head should be resting on the arm you are laying on. Feel free to put your arm up along your head laying it on the floor, or bent under your head for added support.

2. Engage your core to support your balance. Keeping your right foot attached to your left, steadily lift your right knee up toward the ceiling as far as you can. You’ll feel your legs working and your hip open slightly. When your leg opens it resembles a “clamshell”.

3. Keeping your hips and feet secure, lower your right knee back down to touch the other. 

4. Repeat the exercise 8-10 times. Then switch to the other side.

5. Repeat each side for up to 3 sets.

10. Leg press (advanced)

If you are already working on a diligent exercise program and you need a new challenge, you can try a leg press*. This boosts leg and knee strength. 

This is recommended only for older adults with a more advanced fitness level, as it can require some extra strain on the knee. Ask your healthcare provider before trying any new strenuous exercise!

* This exercise requires a leg press machine. 

1. Set your preferred weight of the machine. Make sure it’s not too heavy. You don’t want to injure yourself. Start at a lower weight then slowly work up.

2. Sit on the leg press machine with your back against the seat for support. Adjust the machine if you need to and get comfortable with good posture– you don’t want to be tense before performing this exercise, to prevent strain.

3. Place your feet flat against the metal plate before you. Your knees will be bent in this starting position. 

4. Slowly extend your legs straight to push the plate out in front of you. Breathe. Return slowly to the starting position.

5. Repeat 5-10 times, remembering to breathe. If any part of your body feels a sharp pain, stop the exercise immediately, as it’s probably too much.

A group of seniors warming up in a park.
Warming up prior to exercise is essential for protecting the knee joint.

How To Protect Your Knees During Exercise

Ask your doctor: Before you start a new exercise plan to strengthen your knees, get approval from your doctor or fitness trainer. Not all of the exercises mentioned above are suitable for every individual. Having a professional who knows your medical history advise your exercises can help save you any risk of a knee injury. 

Always warm up first: Don’t rush into difficult exercises right away. Make sure you warm up with some walking, light moving around the room, or stretches. You want to loosen your body up to get ready to exercise.

Be consistent: It’s okay to start small and then work your way up to bigger, more skilled exercises. As long as you stick with a plan and move your body regularly, you’ll likely see results and feel the benefits over time.

Start slowly when working out: You have to start somewhere when pursuing exercises for your knees. Don’t expect to automatically need to run or do leg presses that feel too difficult. Begin with side steps, step-ups, leg flexions and calf raises. These will give you a decent workout until you feel ready to move on to more strenuous exercises. Track your progress and be proud of the abilities you already have.

Use proper form: Remember, there is an optimal way to carry out each movement to protect your body from harm. Learn the proper form to get the most out of each exercise. 

Listen to your body: If you notice any pain, popping, extreme tightness, or discomfort, that particular exercise is probably not the best for you right now. Do something gentler on the body until you resolve whatever is affecting your mobility, or get assistance from a professional. 

Seek low-impact movement: Aside from strengthening, your body will thrive off of low-impact movement every day. Walking, swimming, gentle yoga, and stretching are all great ways to stay healthy and agile while aging. Plus, movement helps your brain function and stabilizes your mood, so try to get movement in for your overall well-being.

Benefits of Knee Exercises Over Time

If you do the right knee strengthening exercises with good form and consistency, you can expect to see results over time. Listen to your body, remember to stretch often, and get moving! Keep in mind, healthy habits make a more resilient body.

Make your workouts fun and seek the professional advice that applies to you and any condition you may have. With stronger knees, you’ll be able to withstand all the occasions in life for years to come.