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Exercise for Senior Citizens with Dementia Symptoms

Posted on July 15, 2008 by DementiaGuide

Exercise for Older People with Dementia Symptoms

While regular exercise is important for everyone, it is particularly beneficial to older people. Exercise offers a number of physical and emotional benefits, including:
  • Increased blood flow to the brain and enhanced cognition
  • Improvement of mood through the release of serotonin
  • Reduction of anxiety through the release of excess energy
  • Alleviation of boredom
  • Promotion of concentration and self-discipline.
Moreover, medical studies have shown that regular exercise can improve cognitive function and enhance mood in many individuals with dementia. Specifically, these studies indicate regular physical activity including a mild cardiovascular workout can delay the onset of dementia symptoms commonly seen in degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Other studies have proven moderate daily exercise can help slow the progression of early dementia symptoms, and keep them under control.

Finding the Right Exercise Routine

An exercise program for older persons should be geared toward their limitations while still challenging them physically. The earliest physical symptoms of dementia include a slower walking gait, poor balance, a weaker handgrip, and somewhat poorer coordination. All symptoms limit the kind of exercise a person with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia can do. A doctor or qualified physical therapist can help design an appropriate exercise program; however, a good rule of thumb is to find an exercise program that combines various activities to promote balance, strength, endurance, and flexibility.

Balancing and Strengthening Exercises

Balancing exercises can be as simple as doing leg lifts while holding onto a sturdy chair for support. Walking a straight line with arms to one's side is also a good way to promote balance. With any balancing exercises, it is important there is something close by to grab onto in case the person loses his or her balance. Strengthening exercises include lifting very light weights (canned goods are usually enough) to build muscle in the arms, and doing resistance work with the legs. While sitting in a chair, raise and lower each leg, first in the straight position, then bending at the knee, holding each for a count of five to ten seconds, repeating with each leg several times. To strengthen the core of the body, have the person get on all fours, extend one leg out to the back, hold for five seconds, then bring the leg in and repeat with the other leg for the same count. This exercise strengthens the center of the body, including the back. It helps promote balance, prevent and alleviate back pain, and reduce the chance of falling. To strengthen the hips, lie on one side, support weight on one arm, and lift the legs. While resting on the left side, raise the right leg as high as is comfortable then slowly bring it back down, repeating ten times before switching sides. This helps to prevent hip falls.

Flexibility and Endurance

Gentle stretching serves two purposes - it allows the muscles to cool down after exercising and helps loosen up sore or tense muscles. Many times individuals with dementia feel tense or anxious, particularly if they have had a day filled with challenging symptoms. Gentle stretching can help release tension built up in the muscles and ease the feeling of being "knotted up," which can contribute to a vicious cycle of anxiety. It also increases blood flow, which helps relieve anxiety and depression. Cardiovascular exercise increases the respiration and heart rate, and is essential to promoting endurance. Cardiovascular exercise is generally the easiest activity to incorporate into a person's daily routine because it is often enjoyable rather than burdensome. Walking briskly around the neighbourhood, gardening, bowling, swimming, or anything that gets the blood pumping is good for personswho are experiencingsymptoms of dementia, as well as their caregivers. It is very important not tooverlook the benefits of exercise to the health and well being of someone with dementia. It is never too late to start an exercise program now will help maintain your existing good health.

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Last updated January 15, 2019
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