Alzheimer’s is a difficult disease to live with. It is the most common cause of dementia, which can cause loss of memory, language and other critical mental and physical functions.
John Burkley, director of memory care at Menorah Park in Beachwood, and Rebecca Hall, program director for the Cleveland chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said although this is a difficult disease to live with, there are ways to stay mentally and physically engaged and improve one’s quality of life as much as possible.
In terms of physical activity, Hall suggested doing things the individual liked to do in the past, such as walking or fishing. Doing these physical activities have multiple benefits, especially for those with Alzheimer’s.
“The research shows that people that are exercising regularly, getting their heart rate up and keeping their brains active are able to reduce their risk of cognitive decline,” she said. “And for people living with dementia that get plenty of exercise and physical movement, whatever that looks like for them, can really help manage the symptoms of dementia.
“A lot of times, people with dementia experience anxiety and they might have sleep difficulties. And being able to exercise, get outside and be physically active can help manage anxiety, can help manage aggression, anger, or sleep disturbances.”
Burkley urged exercise by incorporating it into the course of the day, with little modification to one’s schedule. He suggested taking stairs, parking further away at the grocery store or performing housekeeping.
“Individuals suffering from cognitive impairment may not be able to self-direct their daily physical activity, so their care partner may need to encourage them to exercise,” he said. “It’s recommended that an individual try to achieve 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week, or roughly only 20 minutes per day. Taking a 20-minute walk every day, light resistance and weighted exercise can help maintain muscle function and is conducive for optimal brain health.”
On top of physical activity, Burkley added there are a few mental activities individuals can do to stay engaged and sharp.
“There are many simple activities that can be achieved that are appropriate for an individual with any level of cognitive impairment,” Burkley said. “Some examples are to learn something new, practice memorization, strategy games, puzzles, art, music, reading and maintaining a calendar or schedule. Activities should be tailored to the individual’s preferences and abilities, but should always encourage the individual to function to their highest capacity. Lastly, plan activities that make the individual happy. Avoid sedentary activities such as watching television. Activities and hobbies which stimulate the mind are the most rewarding and effective.”
Hall shared a similar sentiment when it comes to sedentary or isolated activity.
“Isolation can be really detrimental to anybody,” Hall said. “But for someone with dementia, it can really exacerbate the symptoms. You might see an increase in cognitive decline. It can lead to depression. It can lead to fear and anxiety. They’re not used to interacting with people, and it can cause them to withdraw even further. So, I think it’s important that people stay in contact and try to find ways to do the activities that they love, even if it’s just a small way.”
Burkley said it is imperative for individuals with Alzheihmer’s, and society as a whole, to stay physically and mentally active.
“Our brains naturally want to use as little energy as possible, thus we find ourselves becoming complacent if we do not challenge our brain,” Burkley said. “Individuals suffering from cognitive impairment are even more susceptible to becoming immobile or fixed in one place, as they may not have the capacity to do the stimulating activities they once did.”