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Aging, Dementia, and Exercise

elderly_exercisingSome recent research indicates that regular exercise, including both aerobic and resistance work tends to be helpful in preventing Alzheimer’s.

These findings, along with the extensive literature on the benefits of staying fit as we age have induced me to attempt to stay physically active, despite a pronounced couch potato tendency.  Monday a friend and I went hiking in a Fort Collins, CO open space area up near the Wyoming border.  A good hike in the wind, and a good look at the geology stemming from the events that created the Rocky Mountains.

Frank, Judi and Carol’s father, walked for exercise, but I never saw him doing any fast walking.  As he lived in Florida, there were no hills to climb.  Not long before he started seriously declining both physically and mentally, he easily leaped over a rain-flooded gutter.  He was probably in his late seventies at the time.  The gutter was flooded during the daytime despite his assertion that the weather in Florida is always perfect and it only rains at night.

In addition, exercise can slow the advance of the disease.    Frank resisted exercising as his illness progressed.  He would do physical therapy, which always helped, but would stop working as soon as the therapy sessions ended.  His walking became progressively slower and his steps shorter.  It got so it was painful for me to watch him try to get anywhere.

Carol and I tried to encourage Frank to exercise after he moved to Denver from Florida.  The assisted living facility offered regular exercise sessions, and Carol and I would accompany Frank to the sessions and participate with him.  It was clear he did not want to be there, and he only reluctantly participated.  He never attended without us along.

This illustrates the caregiver’s dilemma.  As caregivers, we can do everything we can to help our aging parent.   The aging parent, however, may or may not want to be helped.  Frank’s decline into dementia could have been delayed by more exercise, and the progression could have been slowed as well.  Frank would not do the work.

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