A combination of social, mental, and physical stimulation can be the best medicine for a healthy life. Even a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease should not end pleasurable activities, modified as needed. Regular exercise and a nutritious diet are also important to overall health, and can help both you and your loved ones cope better with the impact of this disease.
Here are some factors that can help improve your and your loved one’s quality of life:
The Benefits of Exercise and Recreation
Regular and life-long exercise reduces the chances of developing:
- High blood pressure
- Stroke, and
- Cardiovascular diseases
Each of these conditions may be associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Exercise also benefits the brain, by increasing blood circulation through regular physical activity. Overall physical and mental fitness is improved as well. Exercise can have a positive impact on emotional health, by releasing stress and promoting personal enjoyment, and reducing incidents of agitation or wandering.
How to Enjoy Physical Activity
Ideally, a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, and activity to increase flexibility is recommended to promote general health.
The ability of the individual with Alzheimer’s to enjoy recreational activities will depend in part on the stage of the disease. Someone in the early stages of the disease who enjoyed jogging, walking, swimming, or games of basketball before the diagnosis may be able to continue these activities, with some accommodations.
Others along the disease continuum may enjoy light activities with modifications, such as:
- A companion for walks
- Aerobic exercise classes at a senior center or local swimming pool
- Light gardening
- Modified sports games with others.
As the individual’s condition progresses, it is still worthwhile to have outlets for physical activity, to maintain muscle tone and physical strength and elevate mood. The individual might benefit from sessions with a physical therapist, a light exercise or dance class at a local senior center or pool, or walks with bird-watching groups.
Persons who specialize in exercise for seniors and people with disabilities can also help adapt activities for the Alzheimer’s patient. For people with low mobility or balance issues from their disease, an exercise or yoga class for people who need to sit on chairs or wheelchairs can be enjoyable and beneficial. Family members may want to investigate classes at local senior centers or adult day-care facilities, or in senior retirement or assisted living communities.
Mental Exercises and Therapeutic Activities
Preliminary evidence suggests that staying mentally active may be associated with preservation of cognitive function. Building these reserves through stimulating activities is a lifelong process. Examples of stimulating activities include:
- Reading challenging books
- Learning a musical instrument
- Studying a new language
- Creating art
- Playing chess.
For the person with Alzheimer’s, enjoyable activities that draw upon his or her interests, talents, and strengths may reduce stress or agitation and improve quality of life. Favorite pastimes, which can help maintain social contact with friends and family, might be:
- Board and card games
- Crossword puzzles
- Word games
- Playing video games or using the computer to entertain or educate.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the individual may not be able to continue activities at the level that previously brought him or her joy. But past interests may be clues to what the person with Alzheimer’s would enjoy now.
For example, if the person previously loved playing a musical instrument but cannot do so now, he or she might enjoying listening to the type of music they always liked, or benefit from music therapy, where therapists or musicians help participants to celebrate music.
Other helpful or enjoyable activities might include:
- Bird watching
- Engaging in supervised games or projects at adult day centers
- Joining a support group
- Looking at family photos or videotapes
- Making crafts
- Meditation or relaxation programs
- Outings with others to the zoo, or for a scenic drive
- Pet therapy
The goal: to build a comfortable, engaging level of activity for the individual, to support physical, mental, and social stimulation as much and as long as possible.
Eat a Well-Balanced Diet
A varied, nutritious diet may help prevent diseases believed to increase the risk for Alzheimer’s—conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. If you have Alzheimer’s, nutritious foods can improve your energy levels for everyday activities.
Eating a healthy diet includes:
- Fruits and vegetables, such as:
Make sure that fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants (including Vitamins C and E and beta-carotene) are part of your diet.
- Legumes, such as:
- Foods that's high in mega-3 fatty acids, such as:
- fish: tuna and salmon
- nuts and seeds,
- oils: canola and olive oil
- Whole grains
Diets should be low in saturated fat and added sugar. It's also a good idea to keep healthy snacks on hand to help maintain a healthy weight.