Jan 7, 2015

How to Get An Alzheimer's Patient Into the Gym

Dotty walked over and started working out on her own on an exercise machine. I did not notice at first, but there she was using the machine. My eyes almost popped out of my head.


By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

The very first decision I made as an Alzheimer's caregiver was to take Dotty into the gym for the first time in her life at the age of 88.
The very first decision I made as an Alzheimer's caregiver was to take Dotty into the gym for the first time in her life at the age of 88.

As it turned out this was an excellent decision that worked better than I could have expected, and lead to the realization that

Dotty was capable of More than I could have ever imagined.


This decision changed my attitude and changed the direction of my entire caregiver effort which lasted for eight and one half years, 3,112 days. The decision changed our future, no doubt.

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To read up on my writings on exercise, the positive effects of exercise on the elderly, the positive effect of exercise on patients living with dementia, and more about Dotty and exercise enter the word -- exercise -- into the search box on the right hand side of every page on the ARR website.


How do you get a person living with Alzheimer's to go to the gym?

I suspect this won't be an easy task for many of you, and I can assure you it wasn't for me.

From the word go, every single time I said to Dotty lets go the gym she said, No.

Nevertheless, I lead her into the bedroom to the bathroom and when she came out her gym cloths were lying on the bed. I also her had gym shoes, Keds, lying on the floor. Dotty put her own gym cloths on, but I had to put the Keds on, and tie them for her.

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As you might expect when I was putting her shoes on Dotty repeatedly say to me, I am not going. Sometimes she would add a few choice "curse words". It was pretty difficult at the beginning, but over time it often became "somewhat" amusing as it seemed we were playing a game.

At first, I put Dotty in a low impact exercise class for seniors -- Silver Sneakers. Dotty didn't like it. When I was setting her up in her chair with her ball, band, and hand weights she would refuse to look at me, and was "madder" than a junkyard dog. Nevertheless, I gave her a kiss on the cheek and said, have a nice workout.

In this low level workout class for seniors, there were times during the session where you could remain seated, or stand up and hold on to the back of the chair to perform the exercises.

Dotty was the oldest person in the class, and more than 20 years older than most of the participants so you might have expected her to remain seated. Nope, not Dotty. She stood up and moved to the back of the chair. About two thirds (66 percent) of the participants remained seated.

The class lasted 45 minutes and this allowed me to get my workout in. I used the Five Factor Fitness workout routine and I recommend that all of you do this. You can do it at home. You don't need a gym.

Before I move on, let me make a very important point.

Going to the gym helped me build a tremendous rapport with Dotty. Keep in mind we were going to the gym together.

Not long after we started going to the gym we completely changed our workout routine, and Dotty and I started working out together. No more Silver Sneakers class.

One day, while I was chatting with a trainer, Dotty walked over and started working out on her own on an exercise machine. I did not notice at first, but there she was using the machine. My eyes almost popped out of my head.

I asked Dotty if she liked the machine and she responded yes. So we proceeded to do three sets of 12 repetitions on the machine.

More There More There More There

I was so exhilarated I could not contain myself. I was hugging Dotty, literally jumping up and down, and my mind was jumping all over the place.

After we got home, I was still "high on adrenalin". Later that night I invented Five Factor Fitness for Dotty.

I didn't think this at the time, but I am now comfortable in believing that these events sent me on my long trek, 4 years, on searching for the path to Joy. It took a long time to reach the fork in the road. Burden or Joy?

In our version of Five Factor Fitness for Dotty we focused on the chest, shoulders, legs, and balance.

The most important exercise of them all was the stand up sit down. This literally, along with the selection for of the right pair of Aerosoles shoes, eradicated one of the biggest problems we had -- Dotty stopped falling, Dotty stopped scraping her feet on the ground, and Dotty walked taller and better after the exercise.

See a very brief version of the stand up sit down in the first 40 seconds of this video.

Here are some considerations and extra tips to help you get started.

First, check and see if your healthcare company will pay the cost of a gym membership. Dotty's healthcare company paid for her membership, and I paid for mine. Don't ever pay more than 50 percent of the first offer price for a gym membership. Always start negotiating the price of your gym membership in the last ten days of the month. Say no, at least five times. Sign your membership agreement in the last 3 days of the month. Gyms give there sales people quotas. At the end of the month they are usually under pressure to add and replace members.

Second, if there is a senior exercise class available start with the class. Big tip. Find a friend to participate with your loved one. A work out partner. This is what I did. I would tell Dotty, Lidia is going and she is relying on you to go with her. She needs you to go and be her partner. Dotty loved Lidia and this worked like a charm.

Third, graduate up to Five Factor Fitness for Dotty.

Four, how did I work out and manage Dotty?

Simple really. I managed Dotty's workout on the treadmill. We did this first and I used the treadmill right next to her. Dotty would frequently hit the red button and turn the treadmill off. I would wait 20 seconds and then reach over and hit the green button to restart the treadmill. Worked like a charm.

Five, after the treadmill I would act as Dotty's trainer and assist her in doing three (sometimes two) exercises with a special focus on the stand up sit down exercise.

Six, when Dotty's exercise routine ended I would park her on an exercise bike while I went to the weight room and did two muscles exercises, and one core exercise.

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If you look in the picture above you will notice the Exercycle is very secure. It had a big seat and Dotty's legs are extended out. She was not sitting on a tall Exercycle. Dotty did not peddle. Instead she either watched television, or watched people working out and moving around the gym. She really enjoyed this.

It was not unusual for people to come up and start talking with Dotty, and this helped keep her entertained. The trainers loved her and they were very helpful.

Seven, at the end I would do another 5 to 10 hard minutes on the treadmill. Usually I would be on a treadmill right behind Dotty as she sat on an Exercycle.

This way we were both able to get a very good workout.

This entire endeavor, from the time Dotty started putting on her cloths until the time we arrived back home, took about 2 hours a day, 3-5 days a week. It became one of the most important parts of what became our daily routine.

On the way to the gym Dotty would be meaner than a junkyard dog. On the way out, she would be standing up straight, smiling, and cruising along. As soon as we arrived back home I would give Dotty a good lunch including fruit.

Then she would pass out for a while.

It took me quite a while to figure out solutions to the other problems that are caused by the mind becoming deeply forgetful.

We did it together.

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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The blog contains more than 5,000 articles. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room