I became interested in cardio exercise routines and memory several years ago when my older students began to tell me that their memories seemed to improve after they took my class. I was teaching mostly cardio exercise routines in those days. I started with simple steps and built up to a pretty complex routine. There has to be a connection I thought, between the physical movement, making your brain learn this routine, and improved memory.
Surveys have shown that there is something that Americans fear more than death. It is Alzheimer’s disease. For most of us, losing our personhood – those characteristics which makes us who we are – is a fate worse than death.
Mushrooms seem to be almost magical in promoting health benefits. From fighting respiratory infections to cancer, this assortment of small fungi are gigantic warriors.
In an era where neurological disorders and mental illness run rampant, effective and scalable non-pharmacological interventions are desperately needed. Luckily, science continues to demonstrate the efficacy of exercise-based interventions in improving cognitive, neurobiological, and mental health outcomes in a variety of populations. Multiple modalities of exercise, such as aerobic training and resistance training, continue to demonstrate improvements in several measures associated with brain health. While aerobic exercise has received a majority of the spotlight over the past couple of decades, other forms of exercise have also moved to the forefront of the exercise-neuroscience literature.
If you’ve dealt with a person who has dementia, you are perfectly aware of the hardships that come with the territory. It’s impossible to offer help and support unless you understand the condition. The most important thing to note is that it is an umbrella term pointing to the symptoms of an ailment, rather than an ailment itself.
In other words, the memory loss dementia denotes is usually one of many symptoms that accompany diseases such as Alzheimer’s, vascular cognitive impairment, Lewy-bodies syndrome, and others. To retain a satisfying quality of life, the affected individuals require all the knowledgeable assistance they can get.
This is where you come in as a family member or a caregiver. Here’s what you can do to help.
Set the stage with positivity
The most important thing to remember is that people living with dementia know how to read body language even if they don’t recognize you. As long as you reflect a modicum of modest positivity and ‘normalcy’ in your behavior, you’ll be providing a better environment for them to relax, find their ground, and feel valued as a real person.
A positive attitude is alpha and omega of your support. It requires little effort and it makes all the difference.
Certain ground rules you need to establish
As a caregiver supporting someone with dementia, you need to have some ground rules set in stone. Make a list of pointers on a large sheet of paper which you can refer to now and then, especially if you feel that relationships in the household have been going sideways.
Now, here’s a twist: these rules are mostly there for you. And they go as follows:
- Keep your sentences short and your questions answerable. On some days, this will be more important than on others, but you’ll also be amazed at the opportunities to have meaningful and genuine conversations with them.
- Let them make manageable decisions – like their choice of dinner, means of transportation (car or on foot), a set of clothes, etc. This will instill in them a sense of agency and confidence.
- And while we’re on the topic of confidence, keep your intonation and enunciation distinct and reassuring. This will also improve the overall household atmosphere.
- And finally, always maintain your sense of humor. Encourage them to crack jokes, let go, and get silly – humor heals!
Aim for small habits
When it comes to encouragement, there’s another factor that contributes to the perception of agency and confidence in a person with dementia, and that is habit. Your job is to support behaviors that lead to their better cognitive performance and improved quality of life.
Even the smallest habits can mean a world of difference, such as going through a family photo album several times a week or writing a journal daily. Also, creative activities such as painting can do wonders for people with dementia, especially when it comes to memory retention.
Make sure to keep track
As dementia develops, there’s a greater risk of the person in question wandering off. The nature of the condition is such that they may end up confused, disoriented, and unable to recall why they’ve left home or where they are.
Fortunately, it’s possible to minimize the danger and better keep track of your loved one. At the very least, ask them to always carry their phone with them or, even better, get them to take a GPS tracker along.
Better yet, provide them with a portable medical alert tracker to ensure that they never leave home unsecured. In fact, getting more than one can be useful. You can place them in their coat pockets, jackets, jeans, or put them on a necklace that they’ll be wearing whenever they leave the house.
Give them as much freedom as humanly possible, but make this a fundamental condition.
Label everything you can
Label dispensers and stickers will become the most useful items in your ‘toolbox’ for the following period. Sticking labels on doors, drawers, cupboards, and cabinets to denote what they hold makes everyone’s life significantly easier. But why stop with the name game?
You can take it a step further by compiling a list of all the crucial phone numbers and printing out several copies. Of course, it would be impractical to just leave them lying around. If you have a chance, laminate the lists and hang them on the most frequented doors in the household.
Keep their living space limited and orderly
Naturally, to avoid confusion, you’ll have to make an extra effort to return all objects to their designated spots.
Now, if your loved one is living in a large home, you also might want to rethink their living space. Not that they are physically unfit to navigate spaces, but you’ll need to work with them to help ensure they’re comfortably nested in a space that supports their well-being as well as maximum functioning. You might need to move some furniture around and get rid of clutter to create a layout that eliminates confusion and feels right to them.
Physical activity affects longevity
Simplifying their living space doesn’t mean that they should stay confined to it. On the contrary, people living with dementia need as much physical activity as possible to stay fit and improve cardiovascular health and blood flow through the brain.
Dementia is far from a death sentence – this cannot be overstated – and physical activity correlates directly with longevity and cognitive health.
Now, when it comes to older individuals living with dementia, simple daily tasks that involve physical exertion are perfectly valid. Don’t treat them as victims; instead, keep their hands busy and give them simple tasks they can occupy themselves with.
Important note: elaborate activities might be too much to ask. On the other hand, dish-washing, vacuuming, and other household chores could be a great choice, especially because they’ll be pleased to see the fruits of their labor. Also, if you plan to keep this going, you can print out a schedule spreadsheet and keep track of all activities they’ve already finished, in case they forget.
Apart from that, you might want to look into yoga and see what benefits it manifests for people living with dementia. Yoga strikes the perfect balance between a demanding physical activity and a relaxing stretching exercise with meditative qualities that greatly benefit anyone.
At the end of the day, never forget: the person comes first, not the condition.
You need to prioritize bracing yourself for the forthcoming changes in their behavior, because it’s not merely about being patient in tight spots. To reflect a positive attitude and flexibility, you’ll need to work out the best possible and the worst possible scenarios, and be grateful when the latter don’t transpire, thanks to your efforts.
The naturally positive attitude that follows this frame of mind will have an encouraging and enriching effect on your loved one. And when you provide that kind of supportive environment for them, you might just be surprised what you can learn from them – and the entire experience.
Sarah Kaminski earned her bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences. Due to her parent’s declining health, she decided to become their full-time caregiver. Now, she takes care of her loved ones and writes about the things she learned along the way.
Sarah is a life enjoyer, positivity seeker, and a curiosity enthusiast. She is passionate about an eco-friendly lifestyle and adores her cats. She is an avid reader who loves to travel when time allows.
- “20 Reasons Why We Need to Know the Early Life History of ….” 16 Apr. 2019, https://changingaging.org/dementia/20-reasons-why-we-need-to-know-the-early-life-history-of-people-living-with-dementia/. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.
- “What Is Dementia? Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis.” 19 Mar. 2020, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-dementia-symptoms-types-and-diagnosis. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.
- “Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors ….” https://www.caregiver.org/caregivers-guide-understanding-dementia-behaviors. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.
- “Answers To The Most Important Questions About Alzheimer’s.” 31 Mar. 2018, https://www.medicalalertbuyersguide.org/articles/answers-to-the-most-important-questions-about-alzheimers/. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.
- “Dementia – activities and exercise – Better ….” 31 May. 2014, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/dementia-activities-and-exercise. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.
- “Yoga for Everyone: A Beginner’s Guide – Well Guides – The ….” https://www.nytimes.com/guides/well/beginner-yoga. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease that strikes fear and terror into those who are getting on in years and family members who are in line to care for them. According to the Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation, in 2015 it is estimated that 5.3 million Americans have the disease. It is the 6th leading cause of death behind heart disease, strokes, and cancer but it is the only one that cannot be prevented (1) although some experts now estimate that it may be the third highest (2).
One of the greatest concerns for the aging population is cognitive decline which leads to loss of independence as well as an extreme burden on the caretakers. Individuals worldwide are fearful of being diagnosed with any of the various cognitive issues: Dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of cognitive debilities. In 2015 there was an estimated 47 million people living with dementia and this number is expected to triple by 2050. In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Association reported that they believe there is sufficient evidence to support the link between several modifiable risk factors and a reduced risk for cognitive decline and sufficient evidence to suggest that some modifiable risk factors may be associated with reduced risk of dementia. Specifically, that regular physical activity and management of cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension) reduce the risk of cognitive decline and may reduce the risk of dementia. The Association also believes there is sufficiently strong evidence to conclude that a healthy diet and lifelong learning/cognitive training may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Positive association between aerobic exercise or CV fitness and executive functions is highly consistent but cannot determine causality. Aerobic exercise (AE) has shown moderate to medium sized effects on executive function and memory. Resistance Training (RT) has improved executive function and memory. Combined AE and RT has the biggest (potentially synergistic) effect. It has been proposed that the physical and cognitive exercise might interact to induce larger functional benefits. Larger benefits on cognitive test performance were noted for combined physical and cognitive activity than for each activity alone. “Claims promoting brain games are frequently exaggerated and at times misleading. … To date, there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life (Consensus statement, 2014).
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize and rebuild itself by forming new neural connections. The more neural pathways you have, the more resilient your brain is. Neurogenesis is the process of creating new neurons (brain cells).
Contrary to popular belief, neurogenesis continuously occurs in the adult brain under the right conditions such as with exercise. Substantial benefits on cognitive test performance were noted for combined physical and cognitive activity than for each activity alone. It was also noted that the physical and cognitive exercise together might interact to induce larger functional benefits. “We assume, that physical exercise increases the potential for neurogenesis and synaptogenesis while cognitive exercise guides it to induce positive plastic change” (Bamidis, 2014). To maximize cognitive improvement, combine physical exercise with cognitive challenges in a rich sensorimotor environment that includes social interaction and a heaping dose of fun.
Brain health is becoming extremely important as individuals live longer. Today there is much more information available on how to train the aging brain.
Some great resources are:
- Medical Fitness Tour: Southern California, featuring a pre-conference workshop on Brain Health
Dianne McCaughey Ph.D. is an award winning fitness specialist with more than 35 years experience in personal training, group exercise, coaching, and post-rehabilitation. She is a master trainer for multiple companies and practices and teaches optimal wellness emphasizing the mind, body and spirit. She works with special populations and focuses on posture, gait, balance and corrective exercise programs for better function and health.
Cody Sipe, PhD, has an extensive background in the fitness industry with 20 years of experience as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, program director, exercise physiologist and club owner. He is currently an Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Research in the physical therapy program at Harding University. He is the co-founder and vice president of the Functional Aging Institute (FAI).
This article will look at evidence-based information about the role of exercise in prevention and intervention of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment.