Exercise and enjoying the fresh air offer numerous benefits for us all, but especially for people in dementia care. They help with their cognitive abilities, socialisation, self-esteem and overall wellbeing. As the disease progresses, patients may struggle to enjoy activities they used to love, but it’s important that adjustments are made so they can enjoy the benefits of an active lifestyle.
Benefits of exercise in dementia
If you’re looking after your loved one with dementia, you may feel the need to protect them from strenuous activities. Their weaker physical state may suggest that they are no longer able to participate in favourite forms of exercise, but being sedentary or bed bound could exacerbate their symptoms. Exercise will improve the person’s mood, quality of sleep, reduce the risk of falls, maintain motor skills, improve memory and behaviour, reduce risk of constipation and help them maintain communication skills. With your help and appropriate exercise plan, they can reap all the benefits of physical activities way into late adulthood. You can get them involved with local tea dances and housework, as this won’t feel like exercise and may be more encouraging. Aerobics and weight machines are good choices, as well as simple at-home exercises and stretches. Try performing the exercises together. Start off slowly if they struggle, even a 5-minute workout is a good start. You can gradually increase the duration until they can work out for 30 minutes at a time. Ensure the activities are varied and interesting to keep them motivated.
Go outdoors with dementia!
Enjoying outdoor activities will increase the benefits of exercise even more. Spending time in the sunshine helps us get our daily dose of vitamin D, which is vital for building strong bones and muscles, while preventing autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases. Going outside with dementia and being surrounded by nature has also been shown to improve our mood, social life and self-esteem. Exposure to daylight assists in regulating our sleep patterns. Even 10-15 minutes of enjoying the outdoors per day can bring benefits to a dementia patient’s life. Suitable dementia activities for outdoors include walking, gardening, golf and cycling. Walking can be combined with a useful task like going to the shop. Try a tandem bicycle if your loved one struggles to control a bike or even a three-wheeled bicycle to help them with balance.
Safety tips for exercising with dementia
It’s important that your loved one stays safe during exercise. If you’re unsure about the best physical activities for them, speak to a doctor or physiotherapist who can guide you. Certain conditions like high blood pressure and arthritis could limit the type of exercise they can do. When you venture outside, ensure they’re wearing a hat and appropriate clothing, and that sunscreen is applied to exposed areas of skin. Make sure they drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. Use weight machines instead of dumbbells and free weights that can be dropped. If you’re able to maintain a conversation with the person, they’re in a comfortable aerobic state, however, should you notice that they start to gasp when talking, slow the activity down. If they feel faint or dizzy, or experience any pain, stop the workout and speak to a doctor.