There’s mounting evidence that exercise doesn’t just offer health and longevity benefits for the general population. Loved ones suffering from dementia can specifically reap the rewards of a regular exercise program, particularly when it comes to mental capacity. There are numerous exercises for dementia sufferers that may be helpful, depending on preference and physical capacity.
According to a 2008 study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, daily exercise improved mental ability by 30 percent over a one-year period among women with dementia with an average age of 80, while also improving their ability to feed, bathe and dress themselves. The control group in the study experienced none of the gains enjoyed by the exercise group. Other potential health benefits from exercise include:
- Improved moods
- Better sleep
- Reduced/limited constipation
- Maintenance of motor skills
- Reduced risk of falls due to greater strength and balance
- Improved behavior (less wandering, swearing, acting aggressively, etc.)
- Enhanced communication and social skills
It may not be easy to begin an exercise program with your loved one who suffers from dementia, especially if they didn’t exercise before their illness. But by gradually working safe, simple and customizable fitness activities into their daily routine, the benefits will slowly build and accrue, for an overall enhancement to their well-being. Some suggested exercises follow:
Exercises & Equipment
- Stationary Bikes: These are helpful for cardiovascular fitness and a comfortable way to exercise. Recumbent bikes, which offer a lower profile, are especially convenient for this purpose.
- Treadmills: These types of equipment are great for seniors who like to walk. However be sure to monitor their use at all times to prevent falls.
- On-Property Walks: While it’s never a good idea to allow a person with dementia to wander, having them take walks around the yard is a great form of exercise. Just be sure to stay with them if they can access areas without a fence.
- Basic Stretching: Stretching is an essential, yet often overlooked, element of physical fitness. There are multiple practitioners with helpful DVDs and streaming videos offering pain-free stretching routines, often focused specifically on seniors. The Classical Stretch program by Miranda Esmonde-White—which is broadcast on PBS—is one highly recommended regimen.
- Tai Chi: This Chinese defensive martial art offers significant health benefits and greatly improves balance. Like stretching DVDs and streaming media are helpful here, as well, when it comes to assembling a daily routine.
- Water Exercise: The buoyancy of water makes it a great low-impact setting for exercises for dementia, while also providing the natural resistance needed to make muscle gains. Local area senior centers, YMCAs and gyms may offer programs for seniors; inquire if caregivers can participate as well.
- Simple Strength Training: Your loved one with dementia doesn’t necessarily need to lift weights, but some form of strength training is helpful to maintain ability and stave-off muscle atrophy. If small dumbbells are too much for your loved one to lift, try using canned goods instead. Weight machines may also help, since they are relatively safe and simple to use, as opposed to free weights, which require constant supervision.
- Gardening: Although it can be a fairly strenuous activity that provides good exercise, gardening is also both relaxing and stimulating. Fenced therapy gardens are especially helpful for Alzheimer’s patients.
- Low-Impact Aerobics: Both live classes and instructional videos can offer a wealth of aerobics routines, and this is a good activity for both the person with dementia and the caregiver to participate.
- Chores: Even taking on a more active role in the household can help people with dementia. Chores like dusting, hanging clothes to dry and washing the car not only keep dementia sufferers engaged; they also keep muscles and joints moving.
- Dancing: This activity may offer both exercise and mental stimulation, while also providing a fun social setting. Senior centers and clubs often hold dances, as well as your local dance instruction studio. Again, this is an activity that both the dementia sufferer and caregiver can enjoy.
Not to mention, exercises for dementia have been proven to elevate the moods of persons with dementia, reducing the depression, anxiety and aggression sufferers may experience. And if caregivers participate, the exercise can help relieve stress, which is a major hurdle caregivers face. Exercise, it turns out, is a win-win situation for all.