We’ve known for a long time that getting a good workout can help reduce the risk of developing dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. Now, we’re discovering evidence that exercise can also benefit people who have already been diagnosed with dementia – perhaps even slowing down or reversing the disease’s progression.
“Having exercise and physical activity as part of a care plan for individuals with dementia can greatly improve their functioning and quality of life,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “This is great news, as it’s much less invasive and has fewer side effects then medications – plus, it can be completely free. Knowing that there is a natural way that is proven to help with the symptoms of dementias such as Alzheimer’s make physical activity a vital tool in any treatment plan.”
What are the benefits of exercise for individuals with Alzheimer’s? Here are some symptoms related to the disease that regular physical activity may help improve.
Coordination and balance.
Alzheimer’s is a disease that attacks all aspects of the brain, meaning that as it progresses, it affects an individual’s ability to perform daily tasks and even walk. In order to help maintain as much independence and the best quality of life possible, it’s essential to practice coordination, balance and strength. After all, falls and complications from them are a huge factor in hospitalizations for seniors (and more so for people with Alzheimer’s). Practicing balance and coordination can help the body retain those abilities and turn what could be a nasty fall into a quickly-corrected bobble. Some examples of good exercises include chair yoga (a safe and easy way to build core and muscle strength), free weights (as long as they are supervised), leg and arm raises, and others.
Depression affects many individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. It can stem from just about anything: side effects, boredom, unhappiness or not feeling well. And unfortunately, it becomes a vicious cycle. People who are depressed have less energy to do things, have less desire to participate in activities and social events and even have a higher incidence of memory loss. Being physically active, on the other hand, provides a natural boost of endorphins and other hormones that are perfectly designed to boost mood and memory. Individuals with dementia who exercise on a regular basis have a higher quality of life, a better outlook, fewer disruptive behaviors and can even have improved memory. Some great exercises to combat depression are group exercises (like water aerobics or even taking a short walk with a friend – this gets you physically active and stimulates you socially) or a fun activity that’s also a form of exercise, like gardening or dancing.
Cardiovascular health and brain health have long been linked. Because our brains run on oxygenated blood, and our cardiovascular system is the transit through which it’s transported, it should come as no surprise that poor cardiovascular health can lead to increased complications due to Alzheimer’s. Anything that restricts blood flow to the brain can cause damage in the fragile organ, and also leads to other health difficulties. Doctors recommend that aerobic activity be worked into any exercise regimen (be sure to chat with doctors about how much exercise your loved one with Alzheimer’s can handle). Some options you can try are riding a stationary bike or taking walks either outside or on a treadmill.
Some of the most challenging behaviors of Alzheimer’s can potentially be reduced with a regular exercise regimen. The two biggest symptoms it can help reduce are wandering and restlessness. After a good bout of exercise, we tend to feel more relaxed and have less nervous energy, and this holds true for individuals living with Alzheimer’s. Exercise can help them expend their energy in a healthy way, leave them more rested and allow them to sleep better at night. This same principle applies to wandering – if the person feels calm and relaxed, they have less desire to wander away for whatever reason.
Can exercise reverse the mental decline of Alzheimer’s? While it’s by no means a magic pill, studies have shown that regular exercise can help improve cognitive function in individuals in a mild stage of the disease. People who have mid- and late-stage dementia haven’t shown as much improvement in cognitive decline, but it has been shown to improve selective functions, regardless of what stage of Alzheimer’s an individual is in. Regular exercise can help enhance an individual’s attention through a series of repetitive motions. Seniors also get the benefit of getting their energy out, improving their mood and their physical health and also improving their balance and coordination. Even if exercise doesn’t improve or reverse a senior’s cognitive decline, it can perhaps help them retain their remaining abilities for as long as possible.
Getting a good night’s sleep is paramount to having a high quality of life. Not getting enough zzz’s makes an individual depressed, fatigued, clumsy, irritated and angry, forgetful and even physically ill. By contrast, a person who’s well-rested and has good sleep habits can function at a higher level, has more energy and has a better attitude all around. Regular exercise can help keep a senior with Alzheimer’s on a more regular sleep schedule, much in the same way exercise helps calm disruptive behaviors. It can help expel extra energy, provide that boost of endorphins and provide a sense of relaxation and accomplishment. Pair that with good sleep hygiene and you’ve got a recipe for a well-rested senior.
It can feel difficult to fit yet another thing into your busy day if you’re caregiving a senior with Alzheimer’s. However, getting regular exercise will help them – and you – to live a happier, healthier life. Join in some exercise with your loved one to reap the benefits yourself, and you may be surprised at how quickly your life can change for the better.
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Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care
Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.
Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.
At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.
For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.