People with dementia need to stay physically active

Health and aged care providers and governments are being urged to act to ensure people with dementia are able to remain physically active.


The action follows the release of a new paper that outlines the benefits of physical activity for people living with the condition.


The discussion paper, The Benefits of Physical Activity and Exercise for People Living with Dementia, released by Alzheimer’s Australia NSW and supported by Anglican Retirement Villages (ARV), has found that while people with dementia and their carers have reported several benefits of remaining physically active, it is often difficult to do so.


CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia NSW The Hon. John Watkins said declining confidence in their abilities, inappropriately designed residential aged care facilities or risk averse cultures are some of the many barriers people with dementia face.


We know that physical activity has many benefits for people of all ages, including better physical and mental health,” Mr Watkins said.


This is also the case for people living with a diagnosis of dementia. Regular exercise and physical activity can help improve things like coordination and balance and create a better sense of wellbeing.


The Finnish Alzheimer Disease Exercise (FINALEX) trial found that group exercise sessions and tailored home-based exercises had beneficial effects on the physical functioning of people with Alzheimer’s disease.


As well, a 2013 Cochrane Review of randomised control trials of exercise programs for people with dementia reported there is promising evidence that exercise programs can have a significant impact in improving abilities to perform activities of daily living and, possibly, in improving cognition in people with dementia.


People with dementia and their carers have also said to us in the course of our research that they felt exercise provided cognitive benefits and that they, or the person they support, are more alert and communicate more effectively on the days they are more physically active.


Exercise can also help in creating stronger social connections and better community engagement.


We need to create environments, both in residential aged care facilities and in the community, where people living with dementia feel encouraged, and are appropriately supported, to keep up physical activity and exercise, or to get started with exercise if it’s something that’s never been part of a regular routine.”


ARV Chief Executive Rob Freeman agrees.


We have found this approach to be of significant benefit,” Mr Freeman said.


If you keep people with dementia physically active, it helps them maintain their current level of mobility, which in turn helps them sustain their capacity to remain independent.


The focus should be on what people can do, rather than what they cannot do.”


Recommendations in the discussion paper include the Federal Government funding a series of pilot exercise programs in residential aged care and community aged care; mandate private health insurance rebates for gym memberships and exercise physiologist sessions for people with dementia and their carers; and that the Federal and State Governments encourage the delivery of exercise programs for people with dementia by offering funding incentives to aged care providers.


There are also recommendations for aged care providers to put in place exercise programs to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of people with dementia and that they ensure their environments enable mobility and freedom of movement.


See Exercise programs for people with dementia at


November 2014.