As part of Alzheimer's Awareness Month, we thought it would be fitting to research the effect of exercise for those living with dementia. We have broken it down in an easy-to-read format to ensure there are tips and exercise practises to suit everyone’s needs and abilities, all of which can be easily incorporated into everyday life.
In September, The Alzheimer’s Society holds its annual Alzheimer's Awareness month to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and Dementia. During this opportunity, various organisations, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and communities come together to educate the public about Alzheimer's disease, promote understanding of its impact on individuals and families, and raise vital funds for increased funding for research, support services, and early detection.
“Globally, Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest challenges we face, with nearly 50 million people living with dementia worldwide. To tackle this international dementia challenge, we need to work together and share best practice with one another. This is why Alzheimer's Society has committed to work with partners on global research and campaigning, as well as sharing our learning, best practice, and experience with one another.”
Dementia is a challenging condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. While there is currently no cure, there are various ways to enhance the quality of life for those living with dementia, particularly in its early stages. Exercise is a powerful tool of dementia care in the home.
Exercise not only promotes physical health but also plays a crucial role in improving cognitive function, emotional well-being, and overall independence for individuals in the early stages of dementia. In this blog, we'll explore the profound benefits of exercise in early-stage dementia and provide guidance on how to incorporate physical activity into daily routines.
Understanding Early-Stage Dementia
Early-stage dementia is characterised by mild cognitive impairment and subtle memory problems. It is often the period during which individuals can continue to lead relatively independent lives and engage in daily activities. However, as dementia progresses, these abilities gradually decline.
Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses various cognitive disorders characterised by a decline in memory, thinking, reasoning, and other cognitive functions that interfere with an individual's daily life and activities.
Common types of dementia that may manifest in the early stages include Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia, among others.
It's important to note that early-stage dementia is a clinical diagnosis based on an assessment of a person's cognitive and functional abilities. A healthcare provider evaluates the individual's medical history, conducts cognitive assessments, and may use imaging tests like brain scans to confirm the diagnosis.
Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial in managing dementia effectively. Medications, cognitive training, lifestyle modifications, and support services can help individuals with early-stage dementia maintain their quality of life, delay the progression of symptoms, and plan for their future. Additionally, a home carer or family member can play a vital role in providing support and understanding of dementia care at home.
Exercise during this stage can be a game-changer, offering numerous advantages that help individuals maintain their quality of life.
The Multifaceted Benefits of Exercise
Exercise and physical activity are universally acknowledged as key components of a healthy lifestyle. Regardless of age or health status, incorporating physical activity into daily routines is crucial for maintaining overall well-being. This principle holds true even for individuals facing the challenges of dementia, especially during its early stages.
“Taking regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. We know that what is good for your heart is good for your head. Exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and depression, which are major risk factors for dementia. It can also help people with dementia to maintain confidence and improve their thinking skills and sleep. Exercise can also be an opportunity to engage and socialise with other people.
Alzheimer’s Society’s annual Memory Walk takes place this autumn. Memory Walk is a sponsored walk for all ages and abilities to unite together to raise money to defeat dementia.”
Let’s deep dive into the myriad of benefits of physical activity for those with early-stage dementia:
1. Cognitive Enhancement: Perhaps one of the most remarkable benefits of exercise in early-stage dementia is its impact on cognitive function. Regular physical activity has been shown to improve memory, decision-making, and problem-solving skills. It helps keep the mind engaged and active, potentially slowing the progression of cognitive decline.
2. Emotional Well-Being: Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. For individuals with dementia, this can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, common emotional challenges they may face. Engaging in exercise can boost self-esteem and foster a sense of accomplishment.
3. Reducing the Risk of Chronic Diseases: Engaging in physical activity can lower the risk of various chronic conditions, including certain types of cancer, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. This makes exercise a powerful preventive tool.
4. Quality Sleep: Exercise can lead to improved sleep patterns, reducing issues related to sleep disturbances often seen in individuals with dementia. A good night's sleep is essential for overall well-being and cognitive function.
5. Social Engagement and boosting morale: Many local centres offer exercise groups specifically tailored for individuals with dementia. Participating in these groups provides opportunities for social interaction, which can significantly improve mood and boost confidence.
6. Maintaining Bone Health: Physical activity contributes to strong bones and can reduce the risk of bone-related diseases such as osteoporosis. This is especially important for older adults, including those in the early stages of dementia.
7. Improving Cardiovascular Health: Exercise benefits the heart and blood vessels, which, in turn, can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. A healthy heart is vital for maintaining overall well-being.
Types of Exercises for Early-Stage Dementia
The choice of exercises for individuals with early-stage dementia should be tailored to their abilities and preferences in order to support dementia help at home.
Local community or sports centres often provide a range of organised exercise and physical activity sessions, such as ball games, seated exercises, tai chi, music and dance, indoor bowls, or swimming. Some of these activities can be modified and carried out at home. Walking, gardening, and housework are also good forms of everyday physical activity. The Alzheimer’s Society offers really useful information here.
Here are some exercises for people with Dementia:
1. Walking: Walking is a simple yet highly effective exercise. It can be adapted to various abilities and offers physical and mental benefits. Walking outdoors in a park or garden can provide a calming and stimulating environment. The Alzheimer’s Society host an annual memory walk, find your local event here
2. Chair Exercises: Seated exercises are ideal for those with limited mobility. These exercises can include arm circles, leg lifts, and gentle stretches. There are many online resources and instructors who can guide individuals through seated exercise routines. Click here to a video of easy-to-follow low intensity chair exercises.
3. Tai Chi and Yoga: These mind-body exercises are gentle on the body and help improve balance, flexibility, and mental clarity. They can be adapted to seated positions and are excellent for reducing stress. Yoga International offers valuable tips and information focusing on how Yoga can help people with Dementia, click here.
4. Dancing: Dancing, whether in a group setting or at home, can be a joyful way to exercise. It promotes physical activity, balance, and social interaction.
5. Aquatic Exercise: Swimming or water aerobics can provide a sense of weightlessness and relaxation. It is particularly beneficial for individuals with joint pain. Contact your local leisure centre to enquire about aquatic exercise classes in your area.
Incorporating Exercise into Daily Life
People who have not taken part in any regular exercise for some time, or those with certain health issues, should consider seeking medical advice. Talk to a GP, physiotherapist or relevant healthcare professional before starting any new exercise or physical activity.
To ensure individuals with early-stage dementia can enjoy the benefits of exercise, caregivers and family members should follow these steps:
1. Consult a Healthcare Professional: Before starting any exercise program, consult with a healthcare provider, especially for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. They can provide guidance on suitable exercises and precautions.
2. Set Realistic Goals: Establish achievable exercise goals that align with the individual's abilities and interests. This ensures a positive and sustainable experience.
3. Create a Routine: Consistency is key. Incorporate exercise into the daily or weekly routine to make it a habit.
4. Safety First: Ensure a safe exercise environment, especially for those with balance issues. Remove obstacles and provide support if needed.
5. Join Supportive Groups: Look for local exercise classes or support groups designed for individuals with dementia. These environments can be motivating and provide social interaction.
6. Celebrate Achievements: Recognise and celebrate small achievements to boost motivation and self-esteem.
Exercise in the early stages of dementia is not only possible but highly beneficial to help support dementia care at home. It empowers individuals by enhancing cognitive function, emotional well-being, and physical health. By choosing suitable exercises and incorporating them into daily life, a home carer or a family member can play a crucial role in improving the quality of life for those living with early-stage dementia.
Exercise becomes a pathway to empowerment, fostering independence and a sense of well-being in the face of this challenging condition. Exercise provides a vital component of maintaining a high quality of life for individuals in the early stages of dementia. The benefits of exercise extend beyond physical health, positively impacting mental and emotional well-being. By tailoring activities to individual needs and abilities, caregivers and loved ones can provide valuable support to those with dementia, enhancing their overall quality of life.
For further information and resources related to dementia and Alzheimer's, we recommend visiting the Alzheimer's Society website. They offer a wealth of useful information and support for individuals and caregivers facing the challenges of dementia. Speak to our professional consultants for free information and advice on 01264 319 399.