(Originally written for HubShout, 2019)
Staying active and getting regular exercise provides critical health benefits for people of any age, but as we get older, physical activity becomes more difficult but still remains just as important. While the majority of Americans living with Alzheimer's Disease are over 65, it is estimated that early-onset Alzheimer's affects about 200,000 people under the age of 65. For these people, maintaining physical activity also greatly helps the mind-body connection. They feel better, and it aids in maintaining good function in their joints, muscles, heart and overall mental health. Regular exercise can also help to maintain a healthy weight as well as promote good sleep habits. If you are a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's, you can use exercise with your loved one as part of your memory care plans for a fit body and mind.
Tips on exercising with Alzheimer's patients
You want to strike a bit of a balance when beginning an exercise program with your loved one. Try to shoot for giving them their independence, but also stay active enough with them so that the activity remains fun and safe. Some things to keep in mind:
Try and be realistic about energy levels and how long to exercise. Several short activity sessions are more beneficial toward your memory care plans than one larger one. There's no time limit here. Even five minutes of activity is better than none.
For any exercise program, break it down into small steps that are easier to understand. A specialized caregiver can offer advice here.
An activity can be as simple as taking a walk together. If the patient is in an assisted living or nursing facility, even a walk through the halls or on the grounds will do the trick. Not only is this a good part of the Alzheimer's patient's memory care plans, it's also good for the caregiver.
All Alzheimer's patients should have some sort of ID bracelet on with your contact information on it if they walk alone or are outside of a care facility.
Try and mix in some music to the activity routine to get people up on their feet and dancing if possible.
Make sure the patient (and you if you are joining in) is wearing comfortable shoes and clothing that are durable and made for exercise.
Staying hydrated is very important. Take frequent breaks during the activity to drink water or juice, and also remember to drink before and after exercise.
Finally, stop the exercise if the patient feels any pain, discomfort or disorientation. Take a break to assess, and continue if able to.
For more advanced cases
Depending on the severity of the disease, some people with Alzheimer's may not be able to get around too well. This is a degenerative effect that comes with the progression of the disease, along with other symptoms such as depression, poor coordination and motor skills, or other illness. Even if people are more limited, there are still activities they may be able to do simple household tasks such as sweeping the floor or dusting, riding a stationary bike, using exercise balls or bands for light stretching, or lifting light weights or even household items like soup cans.
It's more the effort than the result
For Alzheimer's patients who have trouble with mobility, staying active is still possible. Even if it's just the smallest of movement, try to make it a regular daily part of your memory care plans. If you tailor the activity to the person and their specific needs and make it fun, their body will benefit as well as their brain.
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