Why it’s important to stay strong when you have dementia

Are you worried that the person you’re caring for isn’t active enough? Find out why strength-building exercise can have long-lasting benefits for people with dementia

You probably already know that physical exercise is really good for people with dementia but one particular form of exercise has been found to increase their likelihood of remaining mobile and independent for longer. It’s called strength-building exercise (sometimes known as resistance training) and the more they do it, the better they could feel.

What is strength training?

Strength training is physical activity using weights or resistance – including your own body weight – to work muscles in the body. Muscle-strengthening activities can include climbing stairs, walking uphill, lifting or carrying shopping, digging the garden, or weight training.

Three reasons why strength building exercise is important

• It helps maintain strong muscles and flexible joints meaning people with dementia can continue to look after themselves.
• It reduces their risk of fracturing or breaking bones – which can be traumatic.
• It helps to improve their balance and coordination which can, in turn, prevent falls and other accidents.

Did you know? Research reveals that regular strength training exercises can improve daily activities such as climbing stairs, walking and moving around the house, getting up from a chair, bed or floor, and putting on socks. Improvements in such small tasks significantly improve the quality of life of person with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

…and three signs they aren’t getting enough

1. They’ve become more sedentary since being diagnosed.
2. They struggle to get up from a chair without help.
3. They’re increasingly nervous about walking unaided or doing things for themselves.

Ways to get more strength building exercise into daily life

Strength training can be suitable for all levels of fitness and can be done at all stages of the dementia journey.

1. Swimming
Swimming is gentle on the joints so it’s particularly good for people who suffer from arthritis. If your loved one used to enjoy swimming you could find that being in the water helps to reignite memories of swimming, combining physical activity with feel-good memories.

2. Pilates
Pilates builds strength and balance, improves posture and can reduce stress. Classes are also quite energetic and sociable so it definitely has all-round benefits for someone in the early stages of dementia.
Tip: Consider a Pilates DVD if you think a class could be too much for them to cope with.

3. Gardening
Gardening can increase strength and flexibility and help a person with dementia to stay fit and agile.

4. Housework
Vacuuming, walking up and down stairs and moving around the house can build strength and improve flexibility.

If the above suggestions might be too strenuous, encourage them to
• Stand up and move regularly – this will keep leg muscles stronger.
• Sit unsupported for a few minutes each day – this will strengthen the stomach and back muscles to support posture.
• Try some bicep curls (see below)

strength training for people with dementia and the elderly

Your motivation check list

1. Is it enjoyable? Whatever strength-building exercise you do, it should be fun.
2. Is it a priority? Try to make some daily exercise as important as eating regular meals, not something you’ll try to squeeze in if you have a few spare minutes.
3. Is there enough variety? If it gets boring, neither of you will want to do it.
4. Is it easy to fit in? This is crucial – if it’s a hassle, you’ll soon stop.
If they need more persuasion
Keep reminding the person with dementia of the benefits these simple exercises could bring. For example, ‘Just a few minutes every day and you could feel stronger, have more energy and keep your independence.’

Good luck!