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Exercise for healthy minds

Program a boon for seniors with forms of dementia

Henk Schippers keeps an eye on the lines as he and a group of Alzheimer's patients keep their thinking sharp in a Minds in Motion workshop.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Henk Schippers keeps an eye on the lines as he and a group of Alzheimer's patients keep their thinking sharp in a Minds in Motion workshop.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/12/2014 (1544 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

At the back of a classroom, a couple married many years ago rehearses lines from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It's the scene where the two star-crossed lovers first meet.

"Remember, Romeo, you have a crush on a young girl," volunteer Alan Macintosh directs Henk Schippers, helping him get into character.

"But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun," he says to his Juliet, wife Marcia. The tenderness and love they portray cut through the fog they and others around them see -- Henk has Alzheimer's disease.

The Schippers' role-playing is part of Minds in Motion, a new pilot program in Winnipeg by the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba. It combines physical and mentally stimulating activities for people with early to mid-stage signs of Alzheimer's disease or other dementias. The eight-week program brings together 22 participants, half of whom have Alzheimer's or dementia. The other half are their care partners -- a spouse, friend or companion.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/12/2014 (1544 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

At the back of a classroom, a couple married many years ago rehearses lines from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It's the scene where the two star-crossed lovers first meet.

"Remember, Romeo, you have a crush on a young girl," volunteer Alan Macintosh directs Henk Schippers, helping him get into character.

"But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun," he says to his Juliet, wife Marcia. The tenderness and love they portray cut through the fog they and others around them see — Henk has Alzheimer's disease.

The Schippers' role-playing is part of Minds in Motion, a new pilot program in Winnipeg by the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba. It combines physical and mentally stimulating activities for people with early to mid-stage signs of Alzheimer's disease or other dementias. The eight-week program brings together 22 participants, half of whom have Alzheimer's or dementia. The other half are their care partners — a spouse, friend or companion.

'But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?'— Henk Schippers, reading his lines from Romeo and Juliet as part of Minds in Motion

For people with a disease that tends to isolate them, it's a chance to get out, meet some new people and have some fun with new activities and challenges.

It starts with close to an hour of physical exercise. Their instructor puts them through their paces with chair aerobics, calling out moves and directions like a choreographer on Broadway. Counting down from eight, she tells people to touch their noses when she gets to seven, say "hi" when she gets to four if they're wearing glasses, and clap their hands if their shoes are black when she gets to two. It takes full concentration and co-ordination of someone with all their brain function.

"She makes you work," said Betty Zandstra, who attends with her husband, John, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's less than two years ago.

Regular physical activity leads to a significant reduction in depression, an increased sense of independence and an improved quality of life, research shows. Zandstra said she's seeing results. Rather than being isolated and cut off from friends, their social circle is expanding and they're having fun, she said.

"It's very good," she said. "It's so nice to do things together in a group."

Getting out of their apartment to the program is good for her physical and mental health, too, Zandstra said. "He asks the same questions over and over again. Sometimes you lose patience."

Evidence shows a socially involved, physically active and mentally challenging lifestyle can help to reduce the risk of developing dementia, or slow the progression of the disease, the Alzheimer's Society says. Minds in Motion is tapping in to that.

After Wednesday's physical workout, cool-down and snack break, it's time for mental gymnastics. This day, there were three choices. Name that Tune has participants listen TV-show themes and try to remember the name of the program, what it was about, and the characters. Participant Carman recognizes the theme from the sitcom Three's Company and can remember the name of country singer Tex Ritter but not the name of his son, John, who was the show's star.

Next, it's the theme from Get Smart. "Ring any bells?" asks Maria Mathews, manager of family education for the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba. "I've got no bells to ring!" jokes participant Dale.

At the opposite end of the room, the smart dialogue of Shakespeare comes to life with the reading of lines from Romeo and Juliet.

"I think people with Alzheimer's need to be challenged," said Macintosh, who volunteered in Scotland with Alzheimer's sufferers before moving to Winnipeg.

"I've watched people playing dominoes and it's fun, but for self-worth, you want to have something to challenge them."

That's not just for people with dementia, said the drama buff who heard about Minds in Motion and volunteered. A couple in the program playing Romeo and Juliet will connect in a way that's new to them both, he said. "It gives people a kick."

Having a program with normal social activities for people with Alzheimer's to attend with their care partners sounds like a simple plan but often it's tough for the caregivers, Mathews said.

"They're too consumed doing 'to' and 'for' and not enough 'with' them," she said.

Every week, there are choices and changes in activities, said Mathews. Keeping things new and a challenge keeps it fun and opens up possibilities for people to discover something they enjoy, she said.

"We don't know what our strengths are," Mathews said.

 

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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History

Updated on Monday, December 1, 2014 at 6:32 AM CST: Replaces photo

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