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Yoga Exercises and Dementia in the Elderly

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Elderly Woman Exercising
It is now largely accepted that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are the result of several processes in the brain. There is also evidence that there are more forms of dementia, each with its own prevalent features. Exercises involving the brain such as memory jogging games and puzzle are now well accepted as ways for managing dementia. While physical exercises may not have any particular effect on cognitive changes, they can affect other aspects of one’s life such as mood, agitation, patience and physical strength which can affect how we respond to dementia symptoms.

Inactivity also leads to stiffness joints, weakness of our muscles. An inflexible joint can also lead to injuries and slow healing if we are injured. There are therefore a number of reasons to expect that regular physical exercises should help in the managing of dementia.

Yoga evolved as a spiritual practice in Hinduism but it also refers to the use of breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation as a way of keeping fit and healthy. In practicing Yoga and learning the postures, you improve your balance, strength, energy and mental awareness. It takes willpower and perseverance to accomplish each yoga pose and to practice it daily. As you progress, you are gradually improving your patience.

Yoga may not improve cognitive abilities in elderly dementia patients but it certainly can improve the mood states and enhance physical function such as flexibility, breathing mechanics, balance, and body awareness. It can if used properly help in improving the well being of the elderly including those with dementia.

Even people with limited mobility are not left out. There is a form called chair Yoga. Having touted the virtues of Yoga, I am not advising that you rush out, buy a book and start practicing Yoga. Your first stop should be your physician. He is in a better position to assess if you are ready for Yoga or to start with some other forms of therapy. When you get clearance, you need to look for a Yoga instructor – preferably one with experience working with seniors.

A knowledgeable teacher will know when to check for vital signs and make sure that you are not taking on any activity until you are ready for it. As with other forms of stretching exercises, you have to remember to move gradually between the postures. The flow between postures should be slow, focusing on proper alignment and strength development. Poses that stretch and strengthen ankles, hips, hamstrings, pectorals and the lower back, without putting unnecessary tension on the wrists, are often ideal.

It is not going to be easy. You should remember that the hard work will pay off in perseverance, better balance, more energy and higher muscle strength. Used with other therapies, Yoga can improve the quality of life of a dementia patient.


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