Alzheimer’s patients may not be able to go out for a run, but they need exercise just like everybody else. Physical activity can reduce the risk of heart problems, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and some types of cancer. It can also improve cognitive abilities, sleep patterns, and mood. It even provides a healthy dose of social interaction. Since we want these things for our loved ones with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to make sure they get up and moving every day.
There are many forms of low-impact and slow activities that, while we may not view them as traditional exercise, are the perfect pace for an elderly person. Swimming, mild forms of yoga and tai chi, gardening, walking, and dance and are just a few. These mini-workouts, no matter how slowly or gently they are performed, will still help the body stay limber and strong, which will in turn help the person live a healthier and happier life.
We don’t believe in giving up on health and happiness just because your brain is a little less agile than it once was. Below, we’ve compiled some tips and tricks for caretakers to help patients move around throughout the day. Be sure to get the patient’s doctor’s approval before starting any exercise routine.
1. Take it easy at first.
Two things about this. One, if the person isn’t accustomed to physical activity, don’t try to do too much at once. It may take them several weeks or even months to work up to the amount of physical activity they should be doing (talk to their physician to determine how much exercise they should be getting and which types of exercise are best). Two, even if the person gets some small dose of exercise on a regular basis, it is important to start each exercise session slowly, because their body is likely to have more trouble warming up than younger people’s bodies do.
2. Clear the exercise space.
Movement is important for any body, but avoiding injury is too. Be sure to move any rugs, cords, or other items that are likely to get in the way while you’re working out. Any animals that live in the house should be kindly ushered to a room with a closable door for their safety and their owner’s.
3. Use a bar or railing.
Balance is important, and elderly people, including those with Alzheimer’s, often struggle to keep it. Have the person exercise near a railing or other stable surface they can hold onto if they’re going to be standing up. Or you can opt to have them sit on their bed or a chair if they’re not balanced or mobile enough to stand.
4. Don’t do anything that hurts.
While a little stiffness at the beginning of the routine is normal, don’t continue the workout if the person begins to feel ill or in pain. Like we said, it may take time to work up to more strenuous exercises.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?