Scottish parliament praises exercises classes for people with dementia

An Edinburgh exercise programme for older people with mental health problems has received recognition and praise from members of the Scottish parliament (MSPs).

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Fit for life classes help people who have cognitive impairment or dementia and who are eight times more likely to have a fall

Fit for life is run by Jackie Hodge, a community mental health physio at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, part of NHS Lothian.

MSPs supported a motion, published on 20 August, which said the programme helped people over 65 who have dementia, depression or anxiety to build their self-confidence and participate in their community by staying active.

The motion said the Scottish parliament ‘celebrates’ the work of Fit for life and its aims of bridging the gap between NHS mental health services and mainstream community exercise groups.

Ms Hodge set up Fit for life five years ago and runs free weekly sessions across the year, supported by a team of volunteers.

Each class has participants – some aged more than 90 – completing a circuit of exercises intended to build strength and balance. Typically people start with 45 seconds of each exercise, using hand weights, leg weights or resistance bands, and work up to two minutes. The sessions end with shibashi t’ai chi.

‘People who have cognitive impairment and dementia are eight times more likely to have a fall compared to people without dementia,’ said Ms Hodge.

‘I saw how hard this group found it to keep active. Many older people with mental health problems are too anxious to attend groups in the community or have such low confidence they don’t think they’d be able to take part.’

The scheme has been shortlisted for an Alzheimer’s Scotland award. The winners will be announced on 24 September at a ceremony in Glasgow.

A short film showing the class in action and interviews with participants is available at https://vimeo.com/127169130

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by Gill Hitchcock

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