Alzheimer’s is a complex, degenerative disease, which mostly affects people over 65. Symptoms that include forgetfulness, confusion and problems tackling everyday tasks may make independent living more difficult, but many people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s will still live in their own homes. Relatives, friends and paid carers may have to take on some tasks and new roles in order to help someone with Alzheimer’s continue to live at home.
More and more people live with Alzheimer’s for many years and with help are able to adapt to the problems that arise. One way to promote independent living is to help your friend or relative to stay physically active. Mobility can be affected when someone has Alzheimer’s, but there are ways to help them stay mobile and independent for as long as possible.
There are three aspects to fitness that are particularly appropriate for people over 65.
Aerobic fitness. Not necessarily from an ‘aerobics’ class, but this relates to how fit your heart and lungs are. Any exercise that gets your heart beating faster and harder and your breathing rate increasing is aerobic. Aerobic fitness helps to prevent heart disease, type 2diabetes and maintain a healthy weight.
Muscle strength. Again, no gym or specialist equipment is required, but doing resistance exercise twice a week will help to maintain and improve your muscle strength as you age. You could ask your friend or relative to help you move shopping bags in from the car, or work together in the garden. Both these activities will help boost muscle strength.
As we age the risk of having a fall and causing damage to bones and joints is increased. This is particularly true for people with Alzheimer’s. By practising balance exercises, such as sitting unsupported, moving from one chair to another and simply standing (with support if needed), falls can be prevented.
Get out there and walk
Walking is an ideal activity for most people because it’s free, it can be done anywhere and it brings a wealth of health benefits.
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s most people are mobile, so it’s recommended that they should do around 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily. This can be broken down into 10-minute bursts, such as walking to local shops, or round the park. You might like to use a pedometer to gauge how much you’ve done and build up gradually to longer distances or time. If you’re a carer, taking time out in this way can give a welcome break and change of scenery for you both. It may also stimulate memories and conversation from the person you’re caring for.
Being out in the sunshine is beneficial for your stocks of vitamin D. This vital vitamin is produced in your skin by being out in the sun for just a few minutes, without letting your skin redden. It can also be provided by eating oily fish. Vitamin D is needed to help prevent osteoporosis, a condition where your bones become more brittle and break more easily. This is a common problem for people aged over 50. Other long-term conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes may also benefit from good levels of vitamin D.
Getting the combination of enough vitamin D, walking and strength exercises will all help keep your friend or relative healthier in body and mind so that they can continue to have a high quality of life. And, don’t forget the same is true for you too.
Fitting walks into a daily routine can help someone with Alzheimer’s orientate themselves in their day. For instance, always taking a walk after lunch may help prevent your friend or relative from napping unnecessarily. This is particularly useful because excessive napping can lead to more confusion and prevent them sleeping well at night. This will help you too because if they are sleeping better, hopefully you’ll get a better night’s rest as well.
What about those cold or rainy days?
If you’re in the UK particularly, cold or wet weather may affect how often you can head outdoors. Don’t let this stop you exercising altogether because benefits can still be had while inside.
Simple t’ai chi or Pilates can be done indoors, from a seated or standing position. You can learn these from a DVD, book or even online. Other seated exercises, such as marching on the spot to music, or raising your arms with weights (small tins of food work well) will all help to raise your heart rate. Many people with Alzheimer’s enjoy dancing to music they remember – this can be good for social interaction too. In the winter months you might like to look out for community events such as dances, indoor bowls or seated aerobics. Try your local library or your GP surgery to find out what’s available.
Walking – it’s great for fitness, relaxation, social time and vitamin D. How about fitting some walking into your daily routine from today? Your heart and mind will thank you.
You can find out more information from this Bupa factsheet on Alzheimer’s.
Produced by Louise Abbott, Bupa Health Information Team, September 2012