Moving plea: exercise and dementia

Help to spread the word that moving is good for people with dementia, says June Andrews.

Research on how to delay or reduce dementia symptoms is limited, but there is evidence is that exercise has an extremely important role. Nevertheless people with dementia, particularly in hospital or care home care, are discouraged from moving about at all. How often do we see frail older patients who have been physically restrained, or who are being given medication to keep them still, when moving is the one thing that they should be doing?
Even when nursing and other associated staff understand the need for exercise, they may ‘refer for physiotherapy’ rather than using everyday opportunities. Walking the patient to the dining table rather than serving a meal at the bedside or helping the patient to make their way to the bathroom rather than putting them in a wheelchair to save time, are ways of reducing the complications that give rise to increased dependency and, in hospital, increase length of stay. It is wrong to wait for an intermittent physiotherapy input, or assume that this will be adequate for care.
The challenge for physiotherapists is how to share their skills. Open hospital or care home visiting and teaching relatives and visitors about the importance of keeping the patient moving is vital.  When staff are busy, this additional support can make a huge difference. If this seems risky, the risk must be assessed against the proven risk of deterioration caused by immobility.
The Dementia Services Development Centre at the University of Stirling is a source of information and advice about how to improve care for people with dementia.
The website Dementia centre provides a wealth of ideas. This year through the Dementia Festival of Ideas physiotherapists have the opportunity to add their knowledge to that of other professionals by taking part in the international conference.
This will be held in Birmingham from 4 to 5 November, along with a care show exhibition. 
Tell us what you think through the Big Ask
June Andrews director of the Dementia Services Development Centre

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