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The Importance of Fitness and Exercise for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

exercise and fitness for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer's DiseaseExercise and fitness are important aspects of life and are beneficial for everyone, but particularly for our loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias.

There has been significant research that shows that leading a life that is physically active and includes regular exercise can have a positive impact on overall health and well-being.

People who exercise regularly have improved levels of general cardiovascular health, stronger bones and, therefore, a reduced risk of osteoporosis. They also tend to sleep better at night and have improved strength and balance, which can reduce the fall risks for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Exercise has other wonderful health benefits too. Any level of regular physical exercise can have a positive impact on emotional health.

Exercise may help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression, a common condition in our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, particularly in the early steps of the journey through these diseases.

Exercise can be beneficial with depression symptoms because it releases endorphins and other mood-enhancing brain chemicals. And even if our loved ones have reduced mobility or are in the middle-to-late steps of the journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, there are still ways to incorporate regular exercise into their daily routines.

Listed below are a few simple exercises for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Exercises Using A Chair

Seated exercises are ideal for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease since they tend to have stability issues. Additionally, chair exercises are a great way to begin getting more physically active if our loved ones haven’t been for a while.

Seated exercises can help to build and maintain essential muscle strength and balance, but they are much less strenuous than standing exercises and reduce the risk of falls and/or injuries.

It’s important to use a sturdy chair with a back (I would recommend one that’s roomy with arms to prevent our loved ones from falling off sideways) for seated exercises and for us to be close by to assist if need be.

With our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, it’s important to take the time to do these exercises at their pace. This includes taking the extra time to patiently coach – without expecting perfection in execution or repetition, with “good enough” done safely being “great.”

It would be ideal to begin each exercise session by breathing in as deeply as possible and then breathing out gently (if our loved ones are able to lift their arms to the side while doing this, it will help increase lung capacity, but if not, that’s okay).

We may have to coach and show our loved ones how to do this, doing the breathing exercises with them to encourage them to follow our example. Repeat this up to a maximum of ten times.

1st exercise (shoulder rolls): Lift the left shoulder up, then take a deep breath in. Breathe out as the shoulder drops. Then, lift the right shoulder up, then take a deep breath in. Breathe out as the shoulder drops. Alternate between the left and right shoulder up to ten times.

2nd exercise (neck strength): In the same sitting position, tilt the head back. Following the same breathing pattern as before, breathe in as the head is tilted back, then breathe out the head moves forward. Then, breath in as the head is turned to the left and breath out as the head is turned to the right. Repeat, alternating between back and forth and left and right up to ten times.

3rd exercise (sitting march): Pace can be as slow or fast as is comfortable. Lift the right knee up and breathe in; put that same foot down and breathe out. Repeat the same process with your left leg. Alternate between left leg and right leg up to twenty times.

4th exercise (leg stretches): Extend the left leg fully, breathing in as it’s extended, and breathing out as it is bent. Repeat with right leg. Alternate between left and right legs up to ten times.

5th exercise (ankles): Cross the left leg over the right leg, and rotate the left foot. Then, cross the right leg over the left leg, and rotate the right foot. Alternate between left and right foot, breathing rhythmically throughout, up to ten times.

Exercising to Music

In the early steps of the journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, our loved ones may be able to do slightly more strenuous exercises around the home, such as gardening, walking up and down the stairs or even dancing.

Exercising to music can make the activity a much more enjoyable experience. Since listening to music can also be beneficial in many ways for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, incorporating music into daily activities like exercise makes perfect sense in our overall care strategy.

going gentle into that good night divider

This is a guest post by Helen Bowden, fitness trainer and nutritionist with experience in dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease 

New Book: “You Oughta Know: Recognizing, Acknowledging, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease”

I’ve just written and published my newest book, You Oughta Know: Recognizing, Acknowledging, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

It is available in both paperback and Kindle versions.

I’ll include the short summary from Amazon I wrote for the book:

You Oughta Know: Recognizing, Acknowledging, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer's Disease“This book looks comprehensively at all the steps that occur in dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

In my own experience with this and in counseling, supporting, and working with others who are going through these steps, I realized there is a basic lack of comprehension about the big picture of how these neurological diseases progress.

I know that because the same questions get asked and answered over and over again.

My purpose is to ask those questions and answer them in a way that, first, makes sense, and, second, works for everybody involved.

I know. I’ve been on the caregiving side of the equation personally. There were no books like this when I did it, so I had to learn on my own and figure out what worked and what didn’t. I made mistakes. You’ll make mistakes.

But, in the end, my mom and whoever you love and are caring for, got the best we have to give and we can learn some pretty incredible and good life lessons along the way.

If you don’t read another book on this subject, you should read this one. I don’t have all the answers, but the answers I have learned are the ones that probably matter most.

Not just now, but for the rest of our lives.” 

This book also includes the last step that we take alone without our loved ones: grief. I’ve been there and I’ve done that and although I will never not feel the grief on some level, I’ve learned some lessons that I know will help each of you.

Jigsaw Puzzles – Activities We Can Do With Our Loved Ones With Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementias

I will be posting from time to time on activities that we can do with our loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias, so today I decided to start with jigsaw puzzles.

I remember as we were growing up that Mom would start a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, putting it on the end of our incredibly long kitchen table, two or three times a year, and we, as a family, would work on it, sometimes together and sometimes one at a time, for several days until it was finished.

Those puzzles became the focal point of concentrated time together, no matter what else what happening in our lives. Even if – as was often the case as the three of us kids crashed at the same time into adolescence – we were all out of sorts in one way or another with each other, those puzzles would bring us together. And even if we weren’t talking or we were sulking or stewing or whatever else the teenage years brings with it, we’d all sit down and work together for a little while.

I have often marveled at Mom’s wisdom in doing this. She could be the hardest of us, at times, to get “unmad,” but somewhere along the way, she realized doing jigsaw puzzles was a way to rebuild bridges among us and reestablish lines of communication.

Once we kids left home, I don’t remember Mom ever doing a jigsaw puzzle again. It wasn’t something that Dad ever did with us, so when the time came that it was just the two of them again, they found other things they enjoyed doing together.

But after Dad died and Mom moved into a senior living community she chose, Mom started working on jigsaw puzzles again. The “ladies” had a table in the community living room where they’d work on a puzzle. Because I was there every day, Mom would often ask me to come down and work on the current puzzle with her and we’d spend an hour or two working on it together.

As Mom’s vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease became evident and were progressing, I looked for things we could do together that would keep her mind active and not frustrate her. I discovered that jigsaw puzzles were one of the activities that we could do.

But not just any jigsaw puzzles. Because Mom’s eyesight was getting worse as well and because her ability to identify shapes was declining, I found that large-format, 300-piece jigsaw puzzles were the best fit for our need. 

Buffalo Games and Ravensburger make the best-quality large-format 300-piece jigsaw puzzles. It’s best to stick with their jigsaw puzzles that don’t have a ton of detail (like the city jigsaw puzzles) to put these together with our loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Too much detail is too confusing and frustrating.

There are several online stores that offer large-format, 300-piece jigsaw puzzles. The two that I used most often were Bits and Pieces and Puzzle Warehouse.

Jigsaw puzzles, interestingly, can give us a lot of insights about how the brains of our loved ones are functioning and the progression of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

I always had Mom pick out the border pieces. As her dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease progressed, this was more problematic for her. The day we started our last jigsaw puzzle together in May 2012, she picked out some border pieces, but most of the pieces were just random.

The last jigsaw puzzle we completed together, a month or so before, I noticed how frustrating it was for her to do, even though she wanted to do it,  and knew somewhere in the back of my mind that was probably the last one we would do together.

The strangest thing I noticed all along, though, was that she would always go for the interior parts that were a solid color. Like the sky. Rationally, I knew that would be the hardest part to do because it was all one color and, yet, that’s what she would start on. I would try to get her to help me find pieces for more doable parts of the jigsaw puzzle and most of the time that worked. But inevitably, Mom would always go back to the solid colors. I’m not sure why, but it always fascinated me.

I’m thankful we had the opportunities to do jigsaw puzzles together. It gave us quality time together away from the day-to-day medical stuff and “have-to-do” stuff that can get in the way, if we allow it to, of our relationships as family, as friends, as parent and child. When we were working on jigsaw puzzles, we were able to capture the essence of who we were to each and other and together before all of that and who we were to each other and together in spite of all of that. 

We created good memories that I’ll carry with me the rest of my life. I’m including some of the jigsaw puzzles that Mama and I did together.