The benefits of gentle exercise and physical activity for older people and those with early onset dementia are well documented. For example, exercise can help patients to sleep better and feel more alert during the day, helping to promote a normal day-and-night routine for people with Alzheimer’s. From a medical perspective, physical activity can also help to improve the health of the heart and blood vessels, reduce the risk of some types of cancer, stroke and type 2 diabetes, as well as help to keep bones strong and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Repetitive exercises such as walking and gentle stretching can be particularly beneficial, and even routine tasks such as folding laundry may lower anxiety and help people with the disease experience some physical activity. Patients often get a sense of satisfaction – a feel good-factor – from knowing that they’ve accomplished something once the exercise is completed.
What is the right amount of activity in the early to middle stages of dementia?
There is no conclusive answer to this question and the right amount of exercise varies from person to person. NHS guidelines and most healthcare professionals recommend 150 minutes of moderately strenuous physical activity per week. This equates to 30 minutes of activity per day, for at least five days a week. However for more fragile bodies, this can be broken up into shorter sessions throughout the day, with each session lasting a minimum of 10 minutes. For example, it could be a 15-minute walk to the local shops, and then housework or gardening tasks in the afternoon.
How can you help a person with dementia to be more active?
Local community or sports centres often provide a range of organised exercise and physical activity sessions, such as ball games, seated exercises, tai chi, dance and swimming catered. Although community classes are recommended as they deliver a social element under the guidance and safety of a fitness professional, some of these activities can be modified to be carried out in the home. Under supervision activities such as walking, gardening and housework are relatively moderate forms of everyday physical activity that will help keep your patient physically fit.
Below are some examples of the types of exercise that are stimulating, yet not for vigorous, as recommended by The Alzheimer’s Society (www.alzheimers.org.uk)
Gardening is a physical activity that provides an opportunity to get outdoors, enjoy the fresh air and get some gentle exercise. For dementia patients, you should consider less strenuous tasks such as sowing seeds, weeding or pruning. These activities may help to improve concentration, strengthen the body’s muscles and improve breathing. Even walking in the garden or through the park can bring huge benefits, providing a change of scenery and a chance to enjoy the changing seasons.
Indoor bowls or skittles
Bowling is a popular activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Ball games such as indoor carpet bowls or skittles can help a visitor or carer to interact with a dementia patient, as well as providing distraction from low mood or agitation – common symptoms of the condition. Some local leisure centres offer indoor bowls sessions, or sets can be purchased from toy or sports stores.
Dancing can be enjoyed in many forms – from tea dances to improvised movement sessions involving ribbons, balloons or balls. For patients who are able to enjoy this activity, it can increase strength and flexibility, help with staying steady and agile, and reduce stress.
People with dementia can benefit from a regular programme of seated exercise sessions at home or with a group at a local class. These exercises are aimed at building or maintaining muscle strength and balance, and are less strenuous than exercises in a standing position. They can be part of a developing programme, with the number of repetitions of each exercise increased over time. For carers, it is a good idea to see these exercises demonstrated (you could visit xx) at least once by an instructor or on a video. Some examples of seated exercises include:
- turning the upper body from side to side, raising the heels and toes, raising the arms towards the ceiling or making circles, raising the opposite arm and leg, practising moving from sitting to standing.
Swimming, under supervision, is a good activity for people with dementia. Many people find the sensation of being in the water soothing and calming. Some studies have also shown that swimming may improve balance and reduce the risk of falls in older people.
Tai chi and qigong are gentle forms of Chinese martial arts that combine simple physical movements and meditation, with the aim of improving balance and health. The movements concentrate on a series of integrated exercises. These forms of exercise focus on balance and stability, which are important in staying agile and may reduce the risk of falls.
ProMedica 24 is Europe’s largest provider of live in care and support services, helping people to live as independently as possible in the comfort of their own homes. Personal relationships and someone’s social environment are central to life, regardless of age or mental ability. Support should be sensitive to the person as an individual, and focus on promoting their wellbeing and meeting their needs.
All of Promedica24’s live-in care teams are made up of fully trained and skilled care and support workers who are experienced in a range of conditions affecting older people including dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke, arthritis and diabetes. For more information please go to http://promedica24.co.uk.