Caregiving for someone with dementia is hard – it can be physically and mentally taxing. A very important part of being a good caregiver for a loved one with dementia and Alzheimer’s is taking care of you, too – and that means exercising.
The benefits of exercise are well documented, including increased energy, improved sleep, and an overall improved mood with reduced feelings of stress and anxiety. Scientists also believe that regular exercise helps with cognitive function, such as planning and multi-tasking and being physically active is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. This means exercise will help YOU not only feel better physically, it can protect the health of your own brain.
I know you are wondering how you can possibly fit one more thing into your day. One answer is to exercise WITH the person you are caring for.
Your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia can benefit from exercise, too. Inactivity can lead to muscle weakness and pain, increased agitation, anxiety and sleep disturbances. Certainly, all of these symptoms make caregiving more challenging for you and reduce the quality of life for your loved one.
Here are some ways you can exercise together
Try to incorporate exercise with your loved one into your daily schedule. (As a caretaker, it is also important to find some time during the week to do something on your own.) Be realistic about abilities. You may need to break activities into shorter time spans throughout the day, rather than one long session. But you may be surprised by your loved one’s physical abilities, endurance and enjoyment.
- Take a walk together. Brisk walking has been proven to boost brain health!
- Work in the garden. Just being outdoors offers its own scientifically proven benefits for seniors.
- Put on some of your favorite music and dance. Music can have an especially positive impact on those with dementia.
- Check for classes at your local Council on Aging, community center or gym that focus on senior health, such as yoga or Tai Chi.
- Stretch and de-stress.
- Lift light weights or use resistance bands.
- Throw a rubber exercise ball back and forth to each other.
- Do simple household chores. Sweeping and vacuuming count as physical exercise too.
For caregivers, focusing on daily exercise is a way to continue to take care of yourself while taking care of your loved one. For both of you, exercising and focusing on your fitness together provides a way to continue to stay connected and to take care of each other. And, remember, it’s never too late to reap the rewards of exercise, no matter how old you are!