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Exercise Your Brain!

Amanda Lambert - January 23, 2019 10:10 AM

What if you were told that there was one thing you could do today to possibly prevent dementia, improve mood, build bone density and help your balance. And it is free. It is called exercise. Watch this compelling video from neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki. She explains how exercise affects the brain and the difference it made in her professional and personal life. Her research focuses on the brain changing effects of exercise.

One thing we know. It is never too late to start an exercise program. Take care to get some qualified help before starting a program to avoid injury. See your physician first to identify any precautions.

If you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, you may be thinking why start now? Research shows that safe exercise has may benefits for someone with cognitive impairment. These include, but are not limited to:

·       Improved mood. Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of depression in people with dementia.

·       Increases in strength and balance reducing risk of falls.

·       Better memory.

·       Opportunities for social connection.

·       Maintenance of motor skills. This helps preserve activities of daily living like dressing and bathing.

·       Improved sleep.

How to Get Started

Ideally exercise should be a combination of strength training and something that gets the heart rate elevated. What is the best way to go about starting an exercise program for yourself or a family member you care for?

Physical Therapy. Often, a person with dementia will qualify for physical therapy through their insurance. Although physical therapy is time limited, it can be an invaluable way to start exercise. Once physical therapy is over, consider hiring a caregiver to continue to encourage and reinforce exercises.

Exercise Classes. Most senior centers and recreation centers have exercise classes focused on older adults. Gyms do too. This is a great way to get off on the right foot with trained instructors.

Consider a Personal Trainer. If funds allow, hiring a qualified personal trainer can be a life saver. They can tailor exercises to someone’s specific needs. For someone who has memory problems this can be invaluable. But expect to pay between $50-$100 an hour depending on where you live.

Walking. Walks are a valuable and simple way to incorporate movement into someone’s life. Just make certain to supervise walks for someone with dementia.

Challenges to Overcome

Starting or resuming exercise can be daunting. Let’s take a look at potential pitfalls and solutions to get you through.

Time. Who has the time to start a program when you are working, a caregiver, a parent? The simple answer: make time. Exercise is that important. Even 30 minutes a day is a good goal. This may mean asking for help with the endless tasks of life in order to find time for yourself or someone else.

Fear. The unfamiliarity of exercise can make the prospect seem overwhelming. As with anything else in life, tackle this problem acknowledging that you will be uncomfortable. It will pass as you become more familiar.

Resistance. If you taking care of someone with dementia, resistance is common. If you have fear, imagine how someone with cognitive impairment feels. Be patient. Think about ways to include exercise as part of an activity like help with housekeeping.

Money. Gym memberships can be expensive. United Medicare Advantage plans have discontinued their gym membership benefit.  But most Medicare plans have not. County recreation centers are very affordable. Investigate senior centers that offer exercise classes. Try a video. Anne Pringle Burnell is widely respected for her exercises tailored to older adults. Take a look at her collection here.

Take this journey to become healthier and happier. You won’t regret it!

Amanda Lambert is the owner and president of Lambert Care Management, LLC which provides care management for older and disabled adults. She is the co-author of, Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). She has worked for over 20 years in the senior-related industry including mental health, marketing, and guardianship. She has a passion for topics related to health, wellness and resilience as we age.

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