You only need to watch the television or listen to the radio to hear messages about the importance of exercise on general health and wellbeing. But for people with dementia, exercise is especially important.
There have been recent, conflicting reports which question whether or not exercise addresses the symptoms of dementia, but what has been shown on many occasions is that exercise can contribute towards the positive wellbeing of people living with the condition.
Our dementia experts have come up with a few simple ways you can encourage a loved one to continue having an active life despite living with dementia.
Light exercises during the early stages
It’s important when encouraging a loved one to exercise that you pay close attention to their capabilities. There may be other health conditions that they have which restrict their capacity or ability to carry out certain activities.
You should always seek advice before starting new activities with your loved one. You don’t need to become the next Mo Farah or Usain Bolt to enjoy exercising. Low-level activities such as going for a walk can be effective in helping your friend or family member to keep active and some leisure complexes or community groups even hold specific activities for people with dementia.
Activities to retain independence
Even seemingly small activities can be beneficial for a loved one with dementia. And you don’t always need to leave the house to do them.
Gardening, for example, enables someone to get some air and sunshine while still staying in a place that is comfortable and familiar to them. It’s also a fun activity that you can do together. Especially if your loved one has always enjoyed tending to the plants, it can help bring back – and retain – happy memories.
Even if your friend or family member doesn’t have a garden, there’s no reason why they can’t enjoy the pleasure of watching an indoor plant grow and flourish. Reminding them to tend to their plant can also help them to keep to a routine and do something independently.
It has also been noted in recent articles that music has positive benefits for people living with dementia, and dancing to songs from their childhood helps them to relive the wonderful moments which mean a lot to them.
One of our own carers, Eleni, has had the pleasure of witnessing this herself. The gentleman she supports was reluctant to try the leg exercises recommended by his physiotherapist. One day, he told Eleni that he wanted to dance and has since taught Eleni the Waltz. Thanks to his love of dancing, the gentleman’s strength and balance have notably improved, and Eleni herself has enjoyed sharing this with him.
Creative activities are engaging ways of allowing your loved one to communicate their feelings or emotions. Anyone can lose themselves in art, and for a loved one with dementia, painting and making beautiful masterpieces allows them to communicate the feelings or emotions they may not necessarily understand.
Using exercise for social interaction
Many of us take up a sport or join an exercise club because of the social aspect and to have fun in a community. It is exactly these things that make exercise such an important part of a loved one’s daily routine.
And for those with dementia, being able to keep an active social life can offer them reassurance. Plus, doing activities at a regular time can give your relative something to look forward to and talk about.
Because dementia affects everyone to different degrees, it is recommended to start working with a physiotherapist who can work with you and your family to create a dedicated exercise plan which fits in with their abilities and routines. This can be as simple as arranging time to do some simple stretches before breakfast or arranging part of the day for more strenuous or group activities.
Physical activity for later stages of dementia
During a more advanced stage of dementia, it is not uncommon for mobility and physical activity to become more of a challenge. It is still important, however, to make sure your loved one’s physical welfare is maintained.
There are several exercises that can be performed while sitting down, or with little physical exertion. For instance, encouraging your loved one to practise getting up from a chair or marching on the spot can strengthen leg muscles and improve balance.
You can carry out these activities either at home, with just the two of you, or in an organised class. Prompting and encouraging your loved one to move about as often as possible is also a good way of protecting the joints and gives them a sense of accomplishment when they are able to do these activities for themselves.
There is no definitive answer to how often your loved one should exercise for or at what level. As long as they feel comfortable and are able to do so safely, with you or your carer there to minimise the risk of falls, doing simple and enjoyable activities can make a significant difference both physically and emotionally.