In this article we discuss balance exercises for dementia patients and the key role that this type of exercise plays with maintaining quality of life.
Having a healthy lifestyle with plenty of physical exercise is important for everyone as they get older. Regular exercise helps keep muscles strong and their coordination working well. Also, exercise stimulates blood flow, cell growth and repair and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Regular exercise can also improve sleeping patterns. Exercise is good for dementia patients who also benefit from activities that maintain their strength and flexibility.
Balance Exercises for Dementia Patients
What is meant by aerobic exercise?
Aerobic exercise is one that is low impact that usually takes place over a period of time such as walking and swimming. Aerobic exercise also includes jogging, cycling and dancing and ideally everyone should complete 30 minutes of this type of exercise most days.
What are strength exercises?
Strength exercises are designed to maintain strength in muscles and tendons – particularly those in the lower body which give support to posture. These exercises also positively impact bone density and the flexibility of tendons. This type of exercise is often called ‘resistance training’ and can include the use of weights and resistance bands.
Balance exercises for dementia patients – Why are they important?
It is important for dementia patients to maintain their quality of life for as long as possible and this includes their mobility.
Balancing exercises help to ensure this. They strengthen the spine and the muscles and as well as maintaining balance. These exercises also improve coordination.
Most importantly, maintaining good balance in dementia patients, helps to reduce the risk of falls.
Balance exercises for dementia patients include bending and stretching. Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi are all excellent for this. Regularly attending one of these classes has the added benefit of participants being able to socialize too.
If it is not possible for your loved one to take part in a class, they can exercise in the home setting.
It is best to seek advice from your doctor before you start exercising with your loved one so that you understand what type of exercises and the duration will be optimum.
It is important that your loved one enjoys the exercises so that they can be incorporated in their daily routine.
Simple balance exercises for dementia patients
It can be very beneficial to encourage your loved one to complete some of these balance exercises every day – or as often as they can comfortably during the week. Twice weekly being the minimum goal.
These balance exercises for dementia patients require no special equipment other than a sturdy chair or kitchen work surface. It is best that your loved one wears sturdy shoes. If your loved one feels discomfort from the exercise, stop straight away and try again later.
1. Sitting and standing
It is very important for them be able to get up from a chair easily. This simple exercise will help your loved one to maintain their balance for doing so.
Place the chair so that there is space all around it and get your loved one to stand up and sit down on the chair five times. Once they are doing this well, you can increase the number to ten times.
2. Raining heels off the ground
Get your loved one to stand facing the back of the chair with their hands resting on top of the chair back and their feet slightly apart.
Encourage them to lift their heels off the ground for the count of three and then to lower them again. Start with completing this exercise five times and build this number up to ten.
3. Standing on one leg
This exercise is also completed facing the back of the chair, holding on to the top of the chair with both hands for support. Feet should be together.
The left leg is kept firmly on the ground while the right leg is bent slightly and raised off the ground for the count of three before being lowered again.
The exercise is repeated standing on the right leg and raising the left leg.
This can be done standing behind the chair, holding the top of the chair back or holding onto a kitchen counter.
With the legs slightly apart, encourage your loved one to march up and down on the spot slowly ten times.
This number can be increased slowly and steadily to 20 and the speed of the marching can be increased too.
5. Three-way kicks
For this exercise, your loved one needs to stand straight with their feet slightly apart in front of a work surface or similar for support – if needed.
Get them to lift their left leg in front of them, hold for the count of three and then replace it in the starting position.
Lift the same leg (left) to the side, hold it while you count to three and then replace it in the original position.
Lastly, get them to lift the same leg (left) behind them, hold for the count of three and then replace it in the original position.
Encourage them to repeat these three movements using their right leg. If possible, this exercise should be repeated three times.
Are there other benefits dementia patients get from regular exercise?
Exercise brings many other benefits for dementia patients and should be continued for as long as possible. As well as preventing the mobility problems associated with inactivity, exercise can improve your loved one’s mood and reduce stress and depression.
Evidence suggests that only a small number of people aged over 65 – fewer than 20% – engage in an adequate level of physical activity, while people who have dementia are even less likely to engage in such activity.
If it is possible, regular exercise should be introduced into daily life when your loved one has the early stages of dementia as it will be easier to continue once their condition progresses.
In the later stages of dementia, you will find that you will need help and support from other people – including trained staff – if you are going to continue regular exercise with your loved one.
It is best to check with your doctor before starting any regular exercise and also as your loved one’s condition progresses.
Even in the later stages of dementia, there are several simple – but effective- exercises that can still be done to help mobility.
Encouraging your loved one to stand often during the day is very beneficial. This will help with both their balance and posture.
If they can move around too, this is good as helps maintain balance and keep their leg muscles strong. It is fine for them to use some support if needed.
Lying absolutely flat on the bed for 30 minutes each day helps to stretch the spine and abdominal muscles and relaxes the neck muscles.
Getting your loved one to sit unsupported for a few minutes every day is also beneficial. It strengthens stomach and back muscles which are both important for posture.
Encouraging your loved one to enjoy regular exercise for as long as possible is very important, but never leave then unattended whilst they do, to minimize the chance of falls.
Incorporating balance exercises for dementia patients into daily routine will give great benefits. They help with quality of life, reduce falls, stimulate blood flow and help with overall health.