Doing Household Chores Improves Health for Elders, Study Finds

Senior woman in the kitchen.

Older adults who keep their living spaces clean and tidy glean both physical and emotional benefits, a new study has found. That’s apparently because of both the physical activity involved and the resulting environment.

“House cleaning kept them up and moving,” Kathy D. Wright, a postdoctoral researcher at Case Western Reserve University’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, explained in a news release, “[and a] clean environment is therapeutic.”

Wright’s research team designed their study, involving 337 participants aged 65 to 94, to test a theory called House’s Conceptual Framework for Understanding Social Inequalities in Health and Aging. The theory is meant to elucidate how factors such as income, environment, education and health behaviors (such as smoking or exercise) influence overall health in elders.

All the participants were enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid, had at least one chronic illness, had physical restrictions preventing them from performing basic tasks such as bathing, and were not able to manage daily responsibilities such as taking medication. They were all from Summit and Portage counties in Ohio.

What surprised Wright when analyzing the findings was that property maintenance and housework had a stronger effect on participants’ physical and emotional health than expected factors such as income or neighborhood.

Wright says she hopes this will encourage older adults to continue physical activities even in the face of challenges.

For active adults living in a 55+ community, that might mean getting out and playing tennis or golf, while for more senior adults with disabilities, that might mean doing arm curls while seated in a wheelchair. But doing as much work around the house as possible, it seems, can benefit all older adults.

“We have many activities available to our residents,” says Joe Gervase, President of the homeowners association at Four Seasons at Elm Tree. “There are two golf leagues, a bowling league, a great exercise room and regularly scheduled structured stretch, tone, and strength sessions each week. Although outside maintenance is handled by the homeowners association, all residents have an opportunity to personally maintain the shrub and flower beds around their houses.”

The full study has been published in Geriatric Nursing under the title “Factors that influence physical function and emotional well-being among Medicare-Medicaid enrollees.”

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