By Eleanor Pineau
We all know: Exercise is good for you. Go for a run. Take the Stairs. Lift some weights. Walk or bike, don’t drive.
But how important is exercise really? And how important is exercise to someone that has dementia?
If there was a magical pill for all of our aches and pains, it would be exercise. The number of things exercise prevents AND treats is, well, EVERYTHING. High blood pressure? Go exercise. Depressed? Go exercise. In pain? Go exercise. Afraid of getting dementia? Go. Exercise. Name a condition or symptom, and exercise is bound to have a positive impact on it.
Exercise in older populations is incredibly important to maintain independence, dignity, and quality of life. It is also the most important intervention to prevent falls. This is extremely important as falls is a predictor of loss of independence and death. These factors remain applicable to persons with dementia.
People often think that once someone is diagnosed with dementia, that all is lost, and exercise is not needed. Because, well, “they’re not all there anymore.” Right?
Persons with dementia need to exercise. Oftentimes, these people are also quite capable of physical activity. They need to exercise in order to prevent falling, control other comorbidities/diseases like heart failure, osteoporosis, arthritis, high cholesterol levels, and so forth. They also need exercise in order to prevent depression, delirium, and to help them reduce any pain.
Another thing exercise helps with is drugs. Unfortunately, many people with a cognitive impairment like dementia, take multiple drugs. Taking too many drugs is very dangerous, especially in someone with dementia. Side effects or interactions between drugs are very likely, and these can cause heart attacks, accelerated cognitive decline, and even death. Exercise helps to fix the reason they are on a drug. For example, exercise helps with cholesterol levels so now they don’t need to be on that cholesterol medication.
Many people with dementia are put on anti-psychotics because they have sedative properties. These sedatives are used to sedate the person with dementia so that they no longer yell, wander, or show physical aggression – these are “problem/responsive behaviours” aka “personal expressions.” These drugs actually cause greater cognitive decline, and physical decline – so independence is reduced. In lieu to these drugs, we should be prescribing an exercise regime. Oftentimes, the reason why someone with dementia is yelling, wandering, or being physically aggressive, is because they are in pain, they’re agitated, they’re bored, or they need some physical stimulation. Well you guessed it, exercise cures these!
A lot of people look for a cure or for something that will slow the progression of dementia. And you guessed it again. So far, the only thing that holds promise to prevent or slow the progression of dementia is exercise! Exercising increases blood flow to the brain which increases nourishment and waste removal. It also enhances neurogenesis, or neuron growth! (So in dementia, neurons are constantly being destroyed, and this is why we see memory loss, poor judgement, poor communication, etc. But exercise stimulates the growth of neurons, and keeps neurons healthy which prevents their destruction!) So in essence, exercise slows the rate of dementia, which keeps the person happy and healthy for longer! They can remember more things throughout the day, they have better judgement, and they can find the words they’re looking for!
But where to start? You have a couple of options:
- Exercise at home on your own
- Attend a fitness class in the community
- Access personal training
- Exercising at home on your own
If you and your loved one prefer to exercise at home without any expert advice, you need to take into consideration a couple of key things. First, make sure that your loved one with dementia is wearing comfortable, proper-fitting shoes. This will reduce the risk of falling. Second, make sure your workout space is clear of debris and you’re in a well-lit room. Again, these will reduce the risk of falling. Third, make sure you use proper equipment and safety measures. For example, you should consult a personal trainer or physiotherapist to ensure that you aren’t doing any movements that are contraindicated by a medical condition. If you have osteoporosis, you should not be doing any twisting motions with your back. Consulting a personal trainer or physiotherapist will undoubtedly ensure your safety. Lastly, the most important thing is to have fun! So turn up your favourite music and get your body pumping!
- Attending a fitness class in the community
There are lots of exercise classes in the community. You can find them at gyms, churches, or senior centres. Unfortunately, most are not tailored to people with dementia. There is however one program – Minds in Motion – that is delivered by the Alzheimer Society. This exercise program is catered to persons with dementia. It runs once a week for 8 weeks in a community recreation centre. Participants engage in 45-60mins of physical activity, and 45-60mins of mentally stimulation activities.
To find out more, follow this link: http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/on/We-can-help/Minds-In-Motion
- Using a Personal Trainer
If you are looking for more one-on-one training, you can access a personal trainer who specializes in dementia. This is a great way to get specially tailored exercise programs that are perfect for you! Because these programs are tailored to you, the time spent exercising will give you the most bang for your buck. You will maintain your independence for longer, be able to get up off the toilet easily, walk to the grocery store, and so much more. Personal training can be offered in a facility or in the home, whatever is preferable to you. Looking for a personal trainer who specializes in dementia in the Waterloo-Wellington Region? Contact MemoryFit at 905-299-1206.
So take that magic pill, no matter which way you do it, so you can live independently, maintain your memory, language skills, judgement capabilities, and have fun with your family!