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Yoga, Meditation May Help Dementia Patients

'Holistic' program involving these and other activities brought relaxation, exercise, small study found

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Alan Mozes

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 5, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Life with Alzheimer's disease or other dementias can be difficult for the affected individual and his or her caregiver.

But a small British study suggests that a "holistic" program involving yoga, meditation and other interventions can ease the burden for both.

"This is an activity that caregivers and patients can do together," said study lead author Yvonne J-Lyn Khoo, a researcher with the Health and Social Care Institute at Teesside University in Middlesbrough, U.K. "Because everyone is doing the program together, caregivers have peace of mind to at least allow themselves to 'let go' and do some exercise."

One expert in the United States said programs like this are sorely needed.

"Caregivers for people with dementia are under so much stress," said Catherine Roe, an assistant professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "They often neglect themselves and have no time do things like exercise or mediate. So this is one way that might be possible," she said.

The study, which received assistance from the U.K. Alzheimer's Society, was published recently in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.

The program, called "Happy Antics," involved eight patients with dementia, five of their caregivers, and two research volunteers. Participants ranged between 52 and 86 years of age when the study launched in 2013, and over the course of six weeks 70 percent of the group completed all six 45-minute sessions.

Sessions included some combination of group discussion, stretching, bending, breathing exercises, tai chi, yoga, meditation, qigong and dance. Movement was accompanied by music and was described as "nonstrenuous," and usually occurred while seated, Khoo explained.

"The general impression is that people with dementia don't exercise, won't exercise or can't exercise," Khoo said. "But our findings show that it may not necessarily be that way."

In fact, in post-program interviews, all of the patients and caregivers said "Happy Antics" helped them be more social, and they looked forward to each session. One patient with dementia said, "I feel better after it," while another patient stated, "Good company, nice people. Feeling part of a team."

Caregivers felt rewarded, too. The exercises "help me to relax, just [have] a feeling of well-being afterwards," one caregiver said. Another said, "Everyone is enjoying themselves, which is what we come for."

"Caregivers themselves also feel supported throughout the sessions," Khoo said. "On the other hand, the presence of the caregiver is reassuring to the patient, and this feeling of security and familiarity supports the exercise environment."

Three people involved in the program also cited pain relief as an added benefit, while three others said they felt empowered by the experience.

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