Yoga is a practice and science of connection. Yoga is shown to have positive effects on the mind (cognition), body (physical), and soul (emotional) that can greatly benefit all of us - including people living with dementia.
Mind. The brain is an adaptable organ that is continually creating new pathways, or neural connections, as it encounters new experiences. Research encourages exercises to challenge the brain and create new pathways, known as cognitive training.
These exercises can be especially important during cognitive change, as they are frequently connected with improved memory and decreased risk of dementia.
Because it involves discipline and training of the mind, yoga is a great form of cognitive training. Yoga engages different parts of the brain based on varying components of the practice: breathing, movement, postures and concentration.
Beyond improving brain function, the practice of yoga doesn't require any memory. Instead, it is about focusing on the present. Yoga for people living with dementia offers freedom to be in the moment without pressures to remember facts or to meet anyone's expectations.
Body. Besides just exercising the brain, yoga requires significant physical effort. Classes designed specifically for people living with physical and cognitive change can help eliminate barriers that make other exercises inaccessible. Pose modifications (such as chair yoga), appropriate pacing, and creative communication can help bridge physical gaps and cognitive differences. Yoga is a personal practice. Find pose expressions that make you feel comfortable.
Soul. Yoga can promote calmness for people living with dementia by integrating mindfulness into their practice. By practicing with a group or with a care-partner, yoga can help those with dementia feel less isolated and lonely.
People with dementia can use their practice as an opportunity to engage with the present and with others experiencing similar changes.
Overall, practicing yoga can help all partners in care feel happier and find peace on their journey with dementia. We have also found through personal experience that when teaching care-partners to take a break by breathing 10 cleansing breaths, their loved ones followed suit and both were relieved of stress.
While there is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer's, yoga can improve the prognosis. If you or your loved ones are interested in improving your memory or fighting memory loss, consider a regular yoga practice.
Yoga and meditation are simple and safe solutions to improve brain fitness, strengthen the body, and lower stress.
Kaylynn Evans, MSM-HC, LNHA, CADDT, CDDM is executive director at Vineyard Bluffton. vineyardbluffton.com