Understanding Dementia: Exercise & Outdoor Activities
It’s important for individuals with dementia to continue to participate in activities they enjoy as they contribute to their overall physical and mental well-being. Getting outside and staying active helps relieve anxiety and depression, adds a social component to their day, and helps them to maintain a healthy weight. If possible, aim for 30 minutes of activity on most days. If a 30-minute stretch is difficult, break the activity into mini-workouts. Try to vary the activities to target balance, strength, endurance and flexibility.
- Chair Exercises: Design a routine that is easy and repetitive. Have the person sit in a chair facing you so that they can mimic your movements. Select music that they enjoy, peppy or soothing. Incorporate simple hand weights if appropriate. Take lots of breaks.
- Gardening: Getting outdoors and digging, weeding and planting can be an enjoyable activity for many people. Other outside tasks could include sweeping paths, raking leaves or picking flowers to bring indoors. These activities involve movement — stretching and bending — along with getting fresh air and sunshine, a sure mood booster.
- Swimming: Taking a dip in a pool or a lake is refreshing and may bring back happy childhood memories. Plus, the water’s buoyancy helps ease achy joints as the person swims or splashes around.
- Tai Chi: Tai Chi uses repetitive movements that can help with cognition, and the exercise has been shown to improve balance and stamina.
- Dancing: A cardio exercise like dancing to music helps increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain. Bonus: dancing is fun!
- A Bicycle for Two: A tandem bike ride can be exhilarating, involving some exercise along with a change of scene that can be a mood booster. Have the person with dementia sit in the back and peddle as they are able. Individuals with balance problems might be more comfortable on a three-wheeled bike, with their caregiver riding beside them. Fresh air and exercise is a winning combo.
- Take a Walk: Walking is an activity that can be done by most everyone, outdoors on good weather days and indoors at home, at a mall or a grocery store during inclement weather. Walking sticks are a useful addition for anyone with balance issues as they can help prevent falls.
- Yoga: Yoga can be done on the floor on a mat or in a chair. The simple, gentle movements improve flexibility and strength.
Incorporate as much movement as possible in the individual’s day based on the person’s abilities and interests. Many household chores, like sweeping and dusting, also get the person up and moving and feeling productive and functional. Every little bit of exercise contributes to a person’s overall physical and mental well-being.
Mary Bates, MS, CT, is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She is the Assisted Living and Memory Care Director of Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, and respite care.
Through this column, Mary will share the experience, knowledge, and resources she and her team rely on, anticipating that it will be useful for anyone living with, caring for, or coming into contact with a person with dementia. Send your questions to Understanding Dementia at Summit, 56 Summit Drive, Whitefield, NH 03598 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Mary will share information and answer as many questions as possible through this column. Learn more about Summit by Morrison at www.themorrisoncommunities.org.