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Benefits of Exercise for People with Dementia

September 6, 2016



The 2011 World Alzheimer’s Report suggested that routinely providing personalized cognitive stimulation to those with mild to moderate stages of dementia can produce “short-term improvements and/or reduce decline in cognitive function.” Exercises that can stimulate these responses target both the mental and social functions in the brain. For maximum benefits, exercise should be tailored to their interests and abilities, and they can be done in a group setting like a home care facility or carried out individually by a family member or professional caregiver.

Benefits of Exercise

The following benefits of exercise are particularly helpful to people with dementia, but they are also helpful to seniors in general. Of course, the bonus of using exercise to improve cognitive function is that it helps build a healthy body, too.

Reduces Insulin Resistance and Inflammation

Growing evidence from numerous studies indicates that Alzheimer’s Disease is a metabolic disease in which energy production and brain glucose utilization are impaired. Exercise therefore helps our memory and thinking abilities directly by reducing insulin resistance and inflammation, as well as stimulating the release of chemicals in the brain that promote the growth of new blood vessels and the abundance and survival of new brain cells.

Improves Mood and Reduces Stress
Exercise also indirectly helps your memory and thinking because it improves mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety, areas which frequently contribute to cognitive impairment. According to Harvard research, the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory are larger in people who exercise. Even moderate exercise will reduce stress, allowing for improved cognitive function.

Reduces the Risk of Depression

Similarly, the reduction of stress in people who exercise also helps to ward off depression, which is a common symptom in people who have dementia. When people think about dementia, they often focus on the loss of memory and cognitive function, but depression and anxiety are both painful side effects of the disease. Furthermore, depression can increase memory impairment, making this symptom a double edge sword in people who have dementia. Physical exercise will release endorphins that will help cure the blues and improve memory function, too.

Improves Cardiac Function

Another link to dementia is poor cardiovascular health. Research shows that there is a strong correlation between the decline in heart health and a decline in cognitive function. Exercise and physical activity stimulate blood flow and reduce high blood pressure, helping to optimize cardiovascular health. The bottom line is, a healthy heart equals a healthy mind.

Best Exercises for Seniors Who Have Dementia

Before starting a new exercise regime, it is always best to consult with a physician first. Once you’ve been given the green light, the following exercises are particularly beneficial to seniors who have dementia. If mobility is an issue, the support of a professional home caregiver or a loved one may be necessary.

  • Dancing

  • Seated exercises

  • Yoga

  • Tai Chi

  • Dancing

  • Gardening

  • Swimming

  • Walking

It’s recommended to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day in order to receive the true benefits of exercise. However, something is always better than nothing. If necessary, start out small with five to ten minute exercises and then slowly increase the length of time over the course of several weeks.

The professional caregivers at Alegre Home Care always take physical activity into account when creating care plans. If you’d like to learn more, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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