Home Exercises to Slow Dementia

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Home Exercises to Slow Dementia

By Laura Gifford
Providence Place Senior Living

If your loved one has received a dementia diagnosis, you may be wondering what you can do to slow down the progression of the disease. There are a number of controllable factors that researchers believe reduce dementia development:

  • Regular exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • Exercising the brain with mental activities (Brain Fitness)
  • Frequent socialization

By focusing on these areas, you can potentially decrease the likelihood of memory loss by building more connections between remaining brain cells. Here are some specific activities for the body and mind that can be done at home to slow down the progression of dementia.

Physical Exercise

Your loved one might need help with physical exercise, especially if they have mobility issues or are at increased risk of falls. Still, there are plenty of gentle and effective exercises you can do with them at home. Here are just a few to try:

  • Accompanied walks around the yard or neighborhood
  • Gentle stretching
  • Low-impact aerobic exercise
  • Strength training using dumbbells or a weight machine set to an appropriate level (seated if needed)
  • Dancing

Physical activity increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain, leading to improved cognitive performance and reduced cognitive decline.

Mental Exercise

Word games from Memory Cafe Directory and Providence Place

Courtesy Providence Place

Some research indicates that brain training games can help prevent dementia, but can they help someone who has already been diagnosed with the disease?

A study review from Cochrane Library found a “clear, consistent benefit on cognitive function was associated with cognitive stimulation” for the study participants with mild to moderate dementia.

Here are some of the cognitive stimulation activities used in the studies:

  • Puzzles
  • Word games
  • Music
  • Practical activities such as baking or indoor gardening
  • Discussion of past and present events and topics of interest

The dementia patients participated in these activities for about 45 minutes at least twice a week. The main takeaway from this review is that your loved one with dementia may benefit from regular brain exercises such as the ones used in the studies.

It’s important to choose activities that are suited to your loved one’s current capacity and interests. You could use something as simple as a card game that they are already familiar with so that they don’t have to learn something new and challenging.

Also try visual games, like matching objects up, or video games like Tetris. Writing and trivia games are also great options. Even something as mundane as household chores can be stimulating and beneficial.

Adding a social component to these activities provides extra benefits, like improved self-esteem and a more positive attitude. Interacting with other people stimulates the brain and encourages thinking and language skills.

A Memory Cafe is a great place to take a dementia patient for social interaction since these Cafes are a gathering place for other people with dementia and their caregivers. It’s helpful to connect with people going through the same situation, and there are usually organized activities for you and your loved one to participate in at the Cafe.

Emotional Care

Dementia patients experience many difficult emotions throughout the course of the disease, including fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and anger. Additionally, patients seem to have stronger emotional memories than rational ones. Therefore, it’s important for caregivers to boost self-esteem and connect on an emotional level.

A major component of emotional connection is a type of therapy known as the Validation Method. Developed by Naomi Feil (Amazon link), this method teaches caregivers to step into a dementia patient’s world and show empathy for the emotions the patient is expressing. The goal is to validate the person’s feelings and perceptions, even though they may be irrational.

While a caregiver’s first instinct may be to correct flawed thinking and reinforce reality, the problem is that the patient may not be able to comprehend why they are wrong. The progression of the disease makes it more difficult for an individual to understand or retain knowledge of their surroundings.

There are many techniques involved in Validation Therapy:

  • Reminisce – encourage the patient to reflect on their memories, and share your own memories. This is especially helpful if they are talking about a deceased loved one.
  • Match and express the emotions your loved one is feeling.
  • Rephrase what they are telling you to show you understand them.
  • Encourage your loved one to describe what they are experiencing using their senses.

This approach is proven effective in reducing anxiety in dementia patients. Correcting their thinking repeatedly will only upset them.

Most people in early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s will thrive with some additional cueing and reminders. If your loved one is still able to comprehend their surroundings, then reality orientation (correcting irrational thinking) may be beneficial and help ground them. However, if you start to notice they grow agitated whenever you correct them, Validation Therapy will help alleviate this.

Dementia care requires a holistic approach. When physical, mental, and emotional health are addressed, patients thrive. Although there is currently no cure for the disease, you can work with your loved one to slow the progression of the disease and continue to live with dignity.

Laura Gifford

Laura Gifford, Director of Marketing & Communications at Providence Place Senior Living

Laura Gifford

Laura Gifford is the Director of Marketing & Communications at Providence Place Senior Living, a personal care and assisted living community that offers two stages of memory care for dementia & Alzheimer’s residents.

Providence Place communities are located throughout the state of Pennsylvania.

Connect with Providence Place

Online: Providence-Place.com
Facebook: ProvPlace

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