How does physical activity help?
Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and can help your overall wellbeing. It can give you opportunities to spend time with other people and support you to be independent, which is good both for you and others. It can also help you to feel more positive and mean you’re more likely to keep doing the things you enjoy.
Physical activity may improve some aspects of memory, such as helping to have clearer memories of certain events, both for people with dementia as well as those not living with the condition. It may also help to lower the risk of a person developing the condition at all. However, physical activity has not been shown to slow down or prevent dementia from progressing once a person has the condition. Physical benefits Some examples of how activity and exercise benefit you physically include:
improving the health of your heart and blood vessels, which can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease reducing the risk of some types of cancer (especially breast and colon cancer), stroke and type 2 diabetes improving your physical fitness – maintaining strong muscles and flexible joints can help you to stay independent (which can include enabling you to do daily activities like dressing, cleaning and cooking) improving hand-eye coordination (the ability to use what you see to move your hands in response, for example eating, tying laces or hitting a ball when playing tennis) helping to keep bones strong and reducing the risk of osteoporosis (a disease that affects the bones, making them weak and more likely to break) improving sleep reducing the risk of falls by improving strength and balance.
You should only ever exercise as much as you feel able to. If you overdo it, this can be bad for your health. For instance, too much activity for you could lead to problems such as sprains, dizziness or falls.
Pay attention to your body. If, when you exercise or do something active, you are in pain or feel unwell or are short of breath, stop doing this activity. You should then speak to your GP.
Physical activity if you have mobility difficulties
There are a number of ways to keep active even if you have mobility difficulties. Here are some examples.
For an exercise to try in the bedroom – move your hips to shuffle along the edge of a bed, in a sitting position, from one end of the bed to the other. This helps exercise the muscles needed for standing up from a chair. Another exercise for the bedroom is to lie as flat as possible on a bed for 20–30 minutes each day, trying to reduce the gap between the curve of your back and the bed. This allows for a good stretch, strengthens abdominal muscles and gives your neck muscles a chance to relax. To help with balance and posture – try standing up and staying balanced. Hold on to a support if you need to. This can be done at the same time as everyday activities, for example when you’re doing the washing up. Sit unsupported and upright for a few minutes each day – you could sit on a seat with no back or a bed. This exercise helps to strengthen the stomach and back muscles used to support posture. You might want to ask someone to stay with you for this. Stand up and move about regularly. Moving regularly helps to keep leg muscles strong and maintain good balance.
Physical activity and exercise
Seated exercises help with muscle strength and balance and may be better for anyone who finds standing exercises more difficult. However, these can put a lot of strain on the lower back, so it’s best to speak to the GP before trying these.
Some examples of seated exercises include:
marching with your feet turning your upper body from side to side raising your heels and toes raising your arms towards the ceiling raising your opposite arm and leg straightening your legs together or in turn clapping under your legs cycling your legs making circles with your arms moving from sitting to standing.
Gardening may help to strengthen your muscles and improve your breathing.
Many people see it as an opportunity to get outdoors and do something meaningful and enjoyable. You can vary the activity level according to what you feel able to do. This means you could do something that requires less exertion like weeding or pruning, or a more intensive activity like raking or mowing the grass.
What is sundowning?
Sundowning is a term used for the changes in behaviour that occur in the evening, around dusk. Some people who have been diagnosed with dementia experience a growing sense of agitation or anxiety at this time. Sundowning symptoms might include a compelling sense that they are in the wrong place. The person with dementia might say they need to go home, even if they are home; or that they need to pick the children up, even if that is not the case. Other symptoms might include shouting or arguing, pacing, or becoming confused about who people are or what’s going on.
Why does sundowning happen?
There are lots of reasons why sundowning occurs. As the day goes on, the person with dementia becomes more tired, and this can lead to their symptoms worsening. Hunger, thirst and physical pain can also play a part. As darkness falls, street lights come on and people settle in for the evening and some people with dementia become increasingly concerned that they are in the wrong place.
Tips for managing sundowning as it happens
• Use distraction techniques: go into a different room, make a drink, have a snack, turn some music on, or go out for a walk
• Ask the person what is the matter. Listen carefully to the response and if possible, see if you can deal with the source of their distress
• Talk in a slow, soothing way • Hold the person’s hand or sit close to them and stroke their arm Sundowning 3 Practical tips on preventing sundowning
• Follow a routine during the day that contains activities the person enjoys
• Going outside for a walk or visiting some shops is good exercise
• Limit the person’s intake of caffeinated drinks. Consider stopping the person from drinking alcohol altogether. Caffeine-free tea, coffee and cola are available, as is alcoholfree beer and wine
• Try and limit the person’s naps during the day to encourage them to sleep well at night instead
• Close the curtains and turn the lights on before dusk begins, to ease the transition into night time
• If possible, cover mirrors or glass doors. Reflections can be confusing for someone with dementia
• Once you are in for the evening, speak in short sentences and give simple instructions to the person, to try and limit their confusion
• Avoid large meals in the evening as this can disrupt sleep patterns
• Introduce an evening routine with activities the person enjoys, such as: watching a favourite programme, listening to music, stroking a pet etc. However, try to keep television or radio stations set to something calming and relatively quiet sudden loud noises or people shouting can be distressing for a person with dementia