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Alzheimer's Disease and Exercise

Exercise is good for everyone, and it’s especially important for people with Alzheimer’s disease. It won’t cure the condition, but it can help ease some of its symptoms.

Exercise helps people sleep better and feel more alert during the day, so it can promote a normal day-and-night routine for people with Alzheimer’s. It also can improve mood. Repetitive exercises such as walking, indoor bicycling, and even tasks such as folding laundry may lower anxiety in people with the disease because they don't have to make decisions or remember what to do next. They also can feel good knowing that they’ve accomplished something when they’re finished.

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There are about 10 million people in the U.S. -- mostly women – who have chosen to take care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a grueling job in itself, but many aren’t only caregiving. They’re also raising kids of their own -- and maybe working – at the same time. “You’re already a parent to your children, and then suddenly you have to become a caregiver to your parent,” says Donna Schempp, LCSW, program director at the Family Caregiver Alliance in San Francisco. “It’s very hard to...

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The type of exercise that works best for someone with Alzheimer’s depends on their symptoms, fitness level, and overall health. Check with your loved one’s doctor before she starts any exercise program. The doctor may have advice on:

  • The types of exercise that are best for her, and ones to avoid
  • How hard she should be working out
  • How long her bouts of exercise should be
  • Other health professionals, such as a physical therapist, who can create a fitness program

Exercise Tips for People With Alzheimer’s

  • Start slowly. Once your loved one’s doctor gives the OK for her to exercise, she can start with 10-minute sessions and work her way up.
  • Make sure she warms up before exercise and cools down after.
  • Check her workout space for any hazards, such as slippery floors, low lighting, throw rugs, and cords.
  • If your loved one has a hard time keeping her balance, have her exercise within reach of a grab bar or rail. Other options are to exercise on the bed rather than on the floor or an exercise mat.
  • If she starts to feel sick or begins to hurt, stop the activity.
  • Most of all, help her choose a hobby or activity she enjoys so she’ll stick with it. Some suggestions include gardening, walking, swimming, water aerobics, yoga, and tai chi.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on June 28, 2014

Who does Alzheimer's affect in your family?