The benefits of yoga for those living with dementia

Learning that you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia is sure to shock, upset and frustrate. Although there is currently no cure for dementia, there are some therapies and lifestyle choices that can slow the symptoms of the disease. These include eating a healthy and balanced diet, drinking less alcohol, doing brain exercises such as puzzles and crosswords and light exercise.

In addition to reducing an individual’s cognitive functions, dementia also affects our mental health and physical abilities. Individuals may experience challenges with their balance and strength, along with increasing feelings of stress and depression.

Gentle forms of exercise – such as swimming, gardening and walking – can help those living with early- and middle-stage dementia to maintain balance, strength and flexibility. Gentle exercise can also reduce feelings of stress while increasing an individual’s potential for a better night’s sleep. To a large extent, professional and highly qualified dementia carers will often encourage and help their clients to try low impact exercises – such as yoga or chair yoga.

It is common for community centers to offer yoga, especially for the elderly community. If this is not an option, yoga at home is absolutely doable. Here’s how yoga can help those living with dementia.

Yoga can reduce stress

People living with dementia have been found to have higher levels of cortisol (the primary stress hormone) compared to those without the disease.

When our bodies react to stress, our adrenal glands release a surge of hormones – including cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels can damage the hippocampus, the area of ​​our brain responsible for memory and learning. Yoga has been shown to lower an individual’s cortisol levels.

A relaxing yoga session can also release endorphins — our body’s chemical response to pleasure — which block awareness of pain, increasing the body’s resilience and pain tolerance.

A diagnosis of dementia – understandably – causes stress. As taught in yoga, meditation, and tai chi, relaxation techniques can teach individuals how to cope with and manage their emotional reactions in times of stress, anger, and frustration.

Yoga can help with balance

A 2014 study of nine people living with mid- to late-stage Alzheimer’s disease (a type of dementia) tested whether an eight-week Sit ‘N’ Fit ​​Chair Yoga program was beneficial for older adults. The study showed that 100% of participants experienced a significant increase in balance during the program.

Furthermore, participants’ balance continued to improve up to one month after completing the program.

Yoga improves body awareness

Yoga is widely known to help individuals increase their core strength and flexibility. Increasing strength, flexibility and range of motion while increasing body awareness can help prevent slips, trips and falls. Such understanding and conditioning of the body also allows individuals to maintain their ability to complete Activities of Daily Living (ADL) — which generally include self-care routines — for as long as possible.

In addition to the above benefits of yoga, yoga can improve a person’s potential for restful, restorative sleep. Up to 25% of people with mild to moderate dementia experience sleep disturbances. Yoga can increase the hours spent in sleep, the quality of sleep and a sense of peace after a pleasant night’s rest.

If you or someone you know is living with a diagnosis of dementia and would like to explore yoga as a form of treatment, connect with your local community centers and yoga studios to see if they offer yoga for seniors or dementia. Alternatively, talk to a home care provider to see how they can help, or search the internet for ‘senior yoga’ and ‘chair yoga’ videos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *