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Motion as medicine

Gentle exercise program keeps dementia patients active and helps reduce impact of Alzheimer's

Darren Stone/Victoria Times Colonist</p><p>A group takes part in gentle exercises while seated. Manitoba’s MInds in Motion program uses seated exercises as a way to lessen the severity of dementia symptoms.</p></p>

Darren Stone/Victoria Times Colonist

A group takes part in gentle exercises while seated. Manitoba’s MInds in Motion program uses seated exercises as a way to lessen the severity of dementia symptoms.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/1/2017 (751 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

No sweat bands are required at Minds in Motion at the YMCA on Fermor Avenue. After all, it’s difficult to break a sweat doing exercises seated in a chair.

Still it’s much-needed exercise for the nearly two dozen participants every Tuesday afternoon. Just ask Nancy and Don MacDonald.

“It’s an amazing workout when you’re sitting in a chair for 45 minutes or so,” says Nancy, 68. “You don’t work up a sweat, but you get warm.”

A light workout is only one component of the successful initiative run by the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba. The eight-week program brings people with mild dementia and their caregivers together for two hours once a week at one of six sites around the city, as well as one in Portage la Prairie.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/1/2017 (751 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

No sweat bands are required at Minds in Motion at the YMCA on Fermor Avenue. After all, it’s difficult to break a sweat doing exercises seated in a chair.

Still it’s much-needed exercise for the nearly two dozen participants every Tuesday afternoon. Just ask Nancy and Don MacDonald.

"It’s an amazing workout when you’re sitting in a chair for 45 minutes or so," says Nancy, 68. "You don’t work up a sweat, but you get warm."

A light workout is only one component of the successful initiative run by the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba. The eight-week program brings people with mild dementia and their caregivers together for two hours once a week at one of six sites around the city, as well as one in Portage la Prairie.

Since its inception in 2014, Minds in Motion has grown in popularity in and around the city — and for good reason. A growing body of evidence points to the importance of social, intellectual and physical engagement in helping mitigate the symptoms of dementia — characterized by a decline in mental capabilities and emotional well-being.

"Minds in Motion is designed for family members or friends to join people in moderate-stage dementia in community in something that encompasses physical activity, socialization and brain-stimulating activity," says Maria Mathews, program co-ordinator, adding it’s one of the few offerings involving both people with dementia and their caregivers.

Minds in Motion stands as an exemplary reminder of how life can and must go on after diagnosis. Moreover the initiative helps put a human face on a disease that is often associated with a loss of our humanity: memories and other essential parts of what makes us, well, us.

"What’s really cool is half the time when people stop for a second and peer in, their biggest comment is ‘I would have had no idea anybody in the room had dementia because it looks so normal,’" Mathews says.

That is in part what makes Minds in Motion — first developed in B.C. in 2009 — so effective and innovative.

Each session includes about 45 minutes of exercise followed by a short coffee break. Afterward they play games like bocce and Scrabble. And while that may not seem groundbreaking, these kinds of activities on a regular basis are in many ways the best medicine available for helping people and their families cope with dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is the leading cause.

"One of the inevitable things about dementia is right now we don’t have any treatments — surgical or pharmacological that can stop its progression," says Dr. Barry Campbell, a geriatric psychiatrist at St. Boniface General Hospital.

"Once you have dementia all you can do is try to mitigate its effects and continue to live despite the fact you have dementia." And keeping active both in mind and body do improve quality of life. A 2011 review of research found evidence that physical and mental exercise do not just mitigate symptoms of dementia. Keeping active also helps delay its onset.

"The ideal is that you’re active your whole life," Campbell says. "But once you have dementia, there is evidence that shows being physically and intellectually active likely has a protective factor in terms of slowing the rate of worsening of symptoms."

It’s not all that different from recommendations for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

"Probably the easiest way to understand it is there is a lot of linkage between the causes of cardiovascular disease and brain illness," Campbell says.

That means don’t smoke; exercise daily; eat healthily and consume alcohol in moderation.

These lifestyle choices do not just help prevent heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke (which can cause dementia, too). They help reduce the likelihood of developing dementia later in life.

"Being physically active lessens your risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and lessens your risk of dementia."

Yet it’s not just physical activity that’s important. So too is staying socially and intellectually engaged.

"Social isolation is a huge problem that needs to be addressed to keep up their confidence and get them outside of their homes," Mathews says.

"Otherwise, a lot of these individuals are inclined to withdraw and deteriorate more quickly."

And that’s where Minds in Motion shines. It provides the opportunity for interaction in a caring and safe environment.

"We’re all in the same boat here," says Don MacDonald, 78, a retired public servant who was diagnosed with dementia about two years ago.

Speaking no longer comes easily for Don, says Nancy MacDonald, his spouse and primary caregiver. Struggling to find words, interaction in day-to-day life can be challenging.

"So it is nice to meet more people who are in the same situation," she says. "Don’s at the beginning and some of the others in the group are a little farther along and you get different stories about how their disease is progressing and it makes you wonder where you’re going, but the most important thing is that the people are all wonderful."

Program volunteer Mickey Emmons Wener’s father died from Alzheimer’s in 2011.

"It’s rewarding to see people (with dementia) having fun and really happily involved," says the retired University of Manitoba professor.

"It’s a heartwarming thing to be part of especially after having a family member who probably would have enjoyed a program like this."

If popularity is a measure of success, then Minds in Motion is wildly so; the program’s demand is high. Each site can only accommodate 11 couples per session, and spots fill up quickly.

"We’re getting calls from retirement homes, personal-care homes and community centres," Mathews says. The Alzheimer Society wants to add more sites, especially in rural Manitoba where programming for dementia is often scarce.

"What’s really preventing us from expanding is funding."

Now in their third go-around in Minds in Motion, the MacDonalds consider the program a valuable resource.

The potential benefits to health and well being aside, it’s simply a welcome distraction.

"When I go there, we don’t dwell on it," Don says. "Yes, we’ve got a problem. No, we didn’t want it, but we got it. And we carry on."

To find out more about Minds in Motion, visit the website at Alzheimer.ca or call 204-943-6622 or 1-800-378-6699.

joelschles@gmail.com

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History

Updated on Monday, January 30, 2017 at 9:08 AM CST: adds photos

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