Oct 13, 2011

Can Exercise Slow the Progression of Alzheimer's Disease?

I want to say this clearly right now, we could be you. You could be us. No, I am not promising anything. Yes, it might not work. But, please don't tell me you can't. One thing I learned in life, if you don't try you'll never know.

Dorothy DeMarco
That's My Old Girl
Dotty at 95

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

There is no known way to prevent Alzheimer's disease.

The question here, is it possible to slow the progression of Alzheimer's once it strikes? I believe its possible.

Lets get the full disclosure out of the way. I am not a doctor, I am not a scientist. I am an Alzheimer's caregiver and the Founder of this blog, the Alzheimer's Reading Room.

My main credential is the more than 2,000 articles I have personally written on this website. And, the more than 1,000 that have been contributed from other sources. Many of the articles are directly from persons living with Alzheimer's, Alzheimer's caregivers, and professionals working in the Alzheimer's community. A healthy fraction come directly from persons doing research into Alzheimer's and dementia.

I read and approved every article.

I'm am no longer reluctant to say, I am one of the most knowledgeable persons on the planet when it comes to Alzheimer's disease. I have been told that by some of the top doctors in the field. My proudest moment came when one of the world's best Alzheimer's scientist said to me, "I admire what you are doing".

And now to my mother, Dorothy. Dotty is 95 years old and lives with Alzheimer's. She was officially diagnosed in 2004.

I'm confident that most, if not all, those persons that have been reading about Dotty, watching Dotty in the YouTube videos. listening to Dotty via podcast, and reading about our own caregivers routine would agree the outcome we experienced over the last seven years has been somewhat remarkable.

I want to say this clearly right now, we could be you. You could be us. No, I am not promising anything. Yes, it might not work. But, please don't tell me you can't. One thing I learned in life, if you don't try you'll never know.

I believe that every single person on this planet is capable of more than can be imagined. Dotty proved to me that my belief is correct.

Now to exercise.

One of the very first decisions I made in 2004 was that I needed to get Dotty into a real exercise problem. Imagine she was almost 88 years old. And, she had never been in a gym in her life.

I based my decision on the research I was reading. I think there were about 18 available studies at the time.

The studies in the aggregate showed that older people tended to be cognitively sharper when they exercised.

Some of the studies, while only anecdotal, indicated that across persons with dementia, those that did exercise did better than those that didn't.

Today, there is a much larger body of scientific evidence indicating that "real" exercise can make a difference in how dementia progresses.

Now, I want to describe what I decided to do with Dotty and how it made a difference.

When we first went into the gym I put Dotty into a low level, low impact exercise class for senior citizens. She was by far the oldest person in the class. While younger women would remain sitting during certain parts of the exercise program, Dotty would stand up and do the exercises, mostly by holding on to the back of her chair.

This was when I first started realizing that Dotty could do more.

As a next step we moved on to the treadmill. The exercise bike didn't work for us because Dotty would not continue peddling. So treadmill it was.

I mentioned the word "real exercise".

Here is the formula I used to determine the best heart rate for Dotty to achieve our goal, real exercise.

It works like this. You take the number 220 and you subtract your age. You then multiple the resultant number by .65 (65 percent) and .85 (85 percent). This is the desired target range.

Dotty numbers, remember she was 88 years old at the time. A heart rate of 86 beats to 112 beats per minute..

I decided then that I would get Dotty's heart rate up to 107 and hold it there for approximately one minute. Then I would bring it back down to the area of 97. Every 4 minutes I would take it back up. I raised her heartbeat with a slight increase in the speed of the treadmill, and by changing the incline slightly. The result it is like walking up a small hill.

You might ask why a heartbeat of 97? Dotty seemed able to walk comfortably and without any signs off loss of breath at 97 heartbeats a minute.

Not long after we started to work on the treadmill, we introduced exercise on weight machines into the equation. Believe it or not, the weight training was Dotty's idea. I discovered this one day while I was talking to someone in the gym and Dotty jumped on a chest pull machine. I asked her, do you like that? She said, yes. That is how it started.

Keep in mind, while Dotty was walking on the treadmill, she was looking right at the weight machines and watching people work out.

Let me tell you this. Dotty always said the following before we went to the gym -- I am not going on the "gd" treadmill.

On the way to the gym, Dotty would be cursing me out all the way. Most days she walked into the gym like a zombie that could barely move. On the way out, she was smiling, talking, and standing up straight.

This is how I discovered the value of exercise for the older, for those living with dementia, and for my example of one, Dotty.

This discovery lead me to many of the other things we do during our daily routine to help Dotty, FIGHT.

Fight off the ravages of dementia.

We used the book Five Factor Fitness to develop our program. Instead of dumbbells, we use weight machines. The stand up, sit down is one of the most important exercises in my opinion.

Will this work for you? Well, I don't know. Will it work for some of you? Yes, it will.

Bottom line, it is up to you to decide. Just like it was up to me to decide.

You might have to adapt to your own given situation. In other words, come up with a different routine.

Here is what I know for certain. If you say you can't, you'll never know.

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