Dementia Patients Benefit From “Happy Antics” Holistic Exercise Program

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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In a recent study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, researchers at Teesside University in the UK found that combining cognitive activities and elements of yoga, tai chi, qigong and meditation with routine physical exercise improves the quality of life of patients with dementia.

In the study, which was conducted in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Society (UK), the team developed a holistic approach called the “Happy Antics” program, which integrates an exercise plan involving activities that take into account emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual health of patients.

For each of the 6 sessions, patients began with a cognitive activity where they had to see a picture of an object while the instructor spoke briefly about it. Afterwards, patients add to the discussion about the picture. Then, patients were submitted to physical exercises, including yoga, tai chi, qigong, dance movements, and meditation.

A total of 15 patients attended the program, with an overall attendance of 70%. All patients said they enjoyed taking part in the holistic program, and reported that the participation in the program helped them socially, and that they felt more relaxed and had less pain. Some patients said that being able to learn a new exercise empowered them even if they had faced some physical difficulty during tasks.

“When the wellness approach is applied to exercise, holistic exercise strives to encourage individuals not only to take part in the physical activities, but also to become aware of their own physical and psychological states, and to perform exercise that is purposeful and meaningful to them,” explained lead investigator Yvonne J-Lyn Khoo, BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD, of the Health and Social Care Institute, Teesside University.

The researchers also observed that the sessions improved patients’ memory recall.

“Observations at the sixth session showed that even though people with dementia could not remember what had occurred during previous sessions, six people with dementia who participated in the holistic exercise sessions could anticipate the physical movements associated with specific music and three people with dementia were able to remember the sequence of the physical movements,” said Dr. Khoo. “This showed potential in maintained procedural memory among people with dementia who attended the holistic exercise sessions.”

Caregivers also had the opportunity to participate in the program, and the researchers observed that the activities also had a positive impact in caregivers, with one caregiver reporting feeling less pain.

This particular finding of pain relief after participating in holistic exercise is an important one given the unique complexity of chronic pain. “This suggests that participating in holistic exercise may offer some relief in burden for care-givers as they face many challenges in providing care for patients with dementia, including physical and psychological distress,” added Dr. Khoo.

“The Happy Antics program was able to stimulate and engage people with dementia in exercise as well as provide a social learning environment and offer potential psychological benefits,” concluded Dr. Khoo in a news release.