Currently, around 55 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s or related dementia, with nearly 10 million new cases each year. The numbers are startling, but it’s shocking that until now, there’s no tested method to prevent or cure it. However, anyone can change their lifestyle to reduce their risk of contracting Alzheimer’s. Incorporating a healthy diet, quitting negative habits like smoking and drinking, and leading a physically active lifestyle are some strategies that have positive effects. When it comes to physical activities, there are a host of options to choose from, like aerobics, dancing, strength training, and yoga. Many have been particularly interested in yoga. It's an excellent form of physical and mental exercise to do at home. On top of that, you just need a yoga mat to start your yoga journey.
When it comes to physical activities, there are a host of options to choose from, like aerobics, dancing, strength training, and yoga. Many have been particularly interested in yoga. It's an excellent form of physical and mental exercise to do at home. On top of that, you just need a yoga mat to start your yoga journey.
History of Yoga
Yoga means "to join" or "to unite." It started as a spiritual discipline over 5000 years ago in Northern India. People believed practicing yoga could connect individual consciousness with Universal Consciousness, resulting in harmony between the body, mind, Man & Nature.
From India, yoga made its way to the US in 1893. Since then, it has gained nearly 35 million practitioners in 2016. It became popular due to its many benefits, including preventing Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline.
But the question is, “Can yoga really help one avoid Alzheimer’s disease?” Let’s examine some studies to learn if yoga can safeguard your loved one from a neurological condition.
Yoga in preventing Alzheimer’s
The human brain is an interesting organ continually making new neural connections as it encounters new situations and experiences. That said, experts encourage people to join cognitive training that challenges the brain and helps it create new pathways. Mental training exercises like pattern detection and auditory memorization boost memory and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Yoga is partly a cognitive training exercise. According to experts, practicing it activates the brain areas associated with attention, motivation, executive functioning, and neuroplasticity.
Yoga is also about focusing on the present moment. Its mindfulness element can minimize atrophy or shrinkage in the hippocampus, the region of the brain where changes caused by Alzheimer’s are apparent.
Yoga in managing dementia symptoms
Yoga also helps manage challenging symptoms. Some evidence suggests that chair yoga can help ease behavioral and emotional symptoms, such as stress, agitation, depression, anxiety, and more. It’s a safe and less intense social and physical activity that may help alleviate the loneliness and isolation that people with Alzheimer’s usually feel.
Yoga poses in reducing Alzheimer’s risk
If you can help your elderly loved one set aside an hour each week for yoga and 20 minutes for meditation, it will be time well spent for the brain. In a study about yoga and meditation, researchers discovered that people over age 55 who took a one-hour Kundalini yoga class each week and practiced 20 Kirtan Kriya meditation daily for 20 minutes daily had improved visual-spatial memory skills. Kirtan Kriya is a form of meditation involving chanting, hand movements, and light visualization. It’s been practiced in India for hundreds of years to prevent cognitive decline.
On top of meditation, some good yoga poses to consider include:
Vajrasana or the thunderbolt pose is a meditation and breathing posture that helps increase awareness and improve posture. This yoga position facilitates concentration and calmness of the mind and may be used for meditation exercises.Sphinx Pose
This pose is an easier version of a cobra pose. It’s perfect for anyone who isn’t flexible enough for the deeper backbend required in hatha yoga and modern yoga. The sphinx pose helps release back, shoulders, and hip tension. It also gently invigorates the flow of energy from the spine to the brain, sharpening memory.Padmasana
The Padmasana or lotus pose is a meditative pose that works best when performed in the morning and not necessarily on an empty stomach. It gives a good stretch to your knees and ankles, makes hips more flexible, and enhances body posture. Padmasana awakens the chakras in your body, increases your awareness, and relaxes the mind.Sarvangasana
As you point your toes at the sky, the Sarvangasana or shoulder stand reverses the effect of gravity on your circulation. This inversion boosts memory power by increasing the blood supply to the brain, elevating mental alertness.
While this pose offers several benefits, it isn’t for everyone. Anyone doing this pose should be careful, especially seniors with delicate necks. Check with your doctor if doing yoga is safe for your elderly loved one.
Yoga for seniors with Alzheimer’s: What does it involve?
Yoga for seniors with Alzheimer’s involves gentle movements performed slowly and easily. There are classes, but they are usually shorter than a traditional yoga session, lasting only 10 to 30 minutes.
If your elderly loved one has never tried yoga, don’t worry. Instructors can customize poses and sequences to match each person’s physical capabilities. They never force participants to do poses that they can’t do.
For people with severe Alzheimer’s or balance issues, chair yoga is a good alternative. Participants do poses, like bending, stretching, and twisting, from a seated position or use the chair to support a standing position. Seated yoga has the same benefits as standing yoga and can increase flexibility and improve strength and sleep.
Should Your Loved One Do Yoga?
While researchers don’t fully grasp the connection between yoga and Alzheimer’s disease, most agree that yoga is a safer form of physical activity for older adults. It’s also good for both the mind and the body. Furthermore, anyone can do yoga regardless of physical limitations and chronic conditions.
With adaptive yoga, instructors can modify poses depending on a person’s specific needs and abilities, making it possible for individuals even with Parkinson's Disease or Alzheimer’s to do it. It’s the opposite of strenuous activities like running or jogging, where one needs to be in good physical health. Anyone can practice yoga while sitting, standing, or lying. But note that before enrolling your aging loved one in any yoga classes, consult your doctor to ensure it’s safe for them.
Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.