Dementia and exercise
Dementia does not rob someone of their dignity; it is our reaction to them that does.
You don't need a great memory to enjoy yourself. Each day, there are many things that provide us with purpose and pleasure. A person with dementia still needs a good quality of life, but without some assistance from families and carers, it is much more difficult for them to achieve purpose and pleasure.
There are many ways to plan and provide appropriate activities for people with dementia. Ideally, activities should:
* compensate for lost abilities
* promote self-esteem
* maintain residual skills and not involve new learning
* provide an opportunity for enjoyment, pleasure and social contact
* be sensitive to the person's cultural background.
Importance of exercise for people with Dementia
A person with dementia gains the same kind of benefits from regular exercise as anyone else, including improved cardiovascular fitness, strength and endurance.
Exercise can give many health benefits including:
* Improved mood
* Better sleep
* Reduced likelihood of constipation
* Maintenance of motor skills
* Reduced risk of falls because of improved strength and balance
* Reduced rate of disease-associated mental decline
* Improved memory
* Improved behaviour, such as reduced rate of wandering, swearing and acting aggressively
* Better communication and social skills
Getting started on an exercise program
Suggestions to start an exercise program for a person with dementia include:
* Talk with the person's doctor and organise a full medical check-up.
Other health conditions, such as arthritis or high blood pressure, may limit the types of exercises the person with dementia can safely perform.
* Start slowly. For example, perhaps five minutes of continuous exercise is all the person can manage at first. Over a period of months, add one extra minute at a time until the person can comfortably exercise for 30 minutes.
* Demonstrate the activity yourself and ask the person to follow your lead.
* Boredom kills off motivation, so mix up the activities to keep it interesting.
Types of exercise
If the person used to enjoy a particular form of exercise, encourage them to take it up again with your support. Other suggestions include:
* Walking - this is one of the best all-round exercises, and it's free. Walking also helps to work off the restless urge to wander that is typical of Dementia patients. Try combining the walk with a useful errand, such as going to the shops.
* Cycling - If the person with dementia has problems with their balance, you could try hiring a three-wheeled bicycle for them to ride, while you cycle alongside them.
* Gym work - such as treadmills, stationary bicycles and weight machines.
* Aerobics - you could attend classes together or hire appropriate low impact aerobic workout videos.
Exercise that doesn't feel like exercise
Suggestions for activities that don't feel like structured exercise include:
* Dancing - If the person with dementia doesn't know how to dance, simple dances such as square dancing can be learned and enjoyed, as long as their partner can take the lead.
* Gardening - raking and mowing the lawn are good forms of exercise. Make sure you are on hand to help if required.
* Housework - such as vacuuming and folding laundry. Most people with dementia can continue to perform certain types of housework if they are supervised.
Safety concerns for people with Dementia
Exercise can be helpful for people with dementia, but it is important that activities are safe.
Suggestions to improve safety include:
* Speak with the person's doctor about appropriate exercise as the person's condition progresses.
* For outside activities, make sure the person is wearing some kind of identification, in case they wander off and get lost.
* Use weight machines rather than dumbbells or barbells that can be dropped.
* If the person can still talk while exercising, they're in a comfortable aerobic state. Keep the conversation flowing to monitor how puffed they're getting. Slow it down if they can't talk without gasping.
* For outdoor activities, make sure the person is sun smart - cover up with clothing and apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of their skin.
* Ensure that the person drinks plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
* If the person complains of feeling dizzy or faint, or says they have any kind of pain, stop the activity and talk to their doctor.
Things to remember
* Participating in suitable activities can help a person with dementia to achieve purpose and pleasure.
* Activities play a significant part in dealing with challenging behaviours.
* There are many ways to plan and provide appropriate activities for people with dementia.
* Understanding what makes the person unique can help you plan suitable activities for them.
* Always talk to the person's doctor before starting on any new exercise program.
You don't just wake up one day with dementia or Alzheimer's as these conditions are developmental. Proper exercise can be the key to delay or postpone this process and help the patients staying functional till the end.
Written by shamima Akhtar Tulee
Fitness consultant and owner of Combat Gym