Benefits of Exercise for Alzheimer's Patients

When you or someone you love is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, your world turns upside down. Despite the many unknowns that come with this diagnosis, there are ways to slow down the severity of its symptoms. In honor of Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month in June, we’re sharing the benefits of exercise for the more than 6 million people who are living with Alzheimer’s as well as their 11 million caretakers.

How Alzheimer’s Affects the Brain & Body

Alzheimer’s Disease is both a type and cause of dementia, which refers to a group of symptoms that includes a decline in memory, reasoning, or other cognitive abilities. It accounts for 60-80% of all dementia cases, making it the most common cause of dementia.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by brain cell damage in certain areas of the brain. It typically attacks the part of the brain that is responsible for learning first, so patients will struggle to retain new information. Since Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, symptoms will become more severe and include disorientation, confusion, and behavior changes.

Best Exercise for Alzheimer’s

Aerobic Exercise

Exercise has been established to have positive effects on our physical and mental health. It increases blood flow to both the muscles and the brain. This increased blood flow and brain stimulation increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory formation. In cases of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, studies have shown that individuals who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in mental function.

The recommendation for aerobic activity is 30 minutes a day for five days of the week. This can be done through a dance class, yoga, golfing, bike riding, gardening, or even walking the dog! The most important part is to find an activity you love that keeps you moving and stick to a routine. Over time you’ll notice a difference in both cognitive and physical health.

Balance Exercise

Just like anyone else, the risk of falling is higher as we age. Those with Alzheimer’s Disease are at a higher risk of falling, which means they are at a higher risk for injury and hospitalization.

There are three systems that control your balance – strength, vision, and vestibular. Focusing on exercises that challenge these systems is the best way to improve your balance. Some of our favorite balance exercises for Alzheimer’s patients are single-leg stances, tandem stances, and calf raises. No matter how comfortable you are with balance, you can modify these exercises to make them easier or more challenging. The most important part is that you’re listening to your body and being safe, so keep that in mind when deciding where and when to practice your balance. When you feel like you’ve mastered these exercises, you can progress them by closing your eyes or turning your head from side to side.

When To Schedule Physical Therapy For Individuals With Alzheimer’s

With the many cognitive and physical benefits of exercise, physical therapy can be a beneficial tool for individuals with Alzheimer’s. At Performance Physical Therapy, we work with our patients to help them meet their functional and movement goals. If you’re wondering if physical therapy is the best course of care for you or your loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease, contact us at 401-726-7100 to schedule an appointment at any of our clinics in Rhode Island or Southeastern Massachusetts.

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