Five Tips for Safe Exercise with Alzheimer’s Dementia
If you have been caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you may be overwhelmed, and unsure of how to best support them in staying healthy. Some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia include memory loss, a diminished attention span, noticeable overreactions and misunderstanding, and general difficulties in communicating. Those with Alzheimer’s and dementia are also more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, to experience spatial or perceptual problems, and to be unable to move the body effectively with purpose and direction in relation to their surroundings. They also experience an increased likelihood of balance problems. In this situation, it is important to provide verbal direction in order to help them use their vision and touch which will help compensate for decreased automatic reflexes. Exercise and physical activity can be challenging for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. If you are encouraging someone with cognitive difficulties to exercise, or if you are doing physical activity with them, it’s helpful to have some tips which will keep them both motivated and safe.
- New or complicated activities that require complex learning are not ideal; choose exercises that use and enhance their current skills and talents.
- They may not be able to build upon physical skills, so if they are learning something with physical directions (a strength training exercise for instance) they may need you to repeat the directions and the same exercises each session.
- It is important to repeat directions both verbally and visually, and repeat them often. Directions should be repeated the same way each time.
- Keep your voice and demeanor calm and reassuring, and avoid complicated explanations. Keep things simple and positive.
- Avoid over-stimulation such as loud or harsh music, noise and distractions which can increase anxiety.
Certain types of physical activities are most suitable, such as those that increase mobility and functional stability. Walking, gait training, flexibility exercises and balance exercises are ideal – check out some of the other articles on this site for ideas. You can also use exercises based on everyday movements. Movements such as such as sweeping the floor, reaching, and dancing can help utilize long-term memory, which is less likely to be as affected as short-term memory. You should also incorporate muscular strength exercises in order to help reduce the risk of falling.
Source: E. Best-Martini and K.A. Jones-DiGenova, 2014, Exercise for frail elders, 2nd ed. (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics).