One main goal is to keep our loved ones moving as safely as possible throughout the course of an disease. It does not have to be a steady downhill loss of skills with Lewy Body Dementia. A progression of decline can be expected, but home exercises can make a huge difference in slowing down the decline. Research in 2009 showed that walking could be improved in patients with Parkinson disease with a rehabilitation program.(1) My experience with my husband tends to make me think exercise can be very valuable with LBD as well.
Why is Walking so Important?
Research suggests that strong exercise may protect the brain cells within the areas of the brain affected by mutated Lewy Bodies. (2). In other words, exercise may slow down the disease process from destroying brain cells. The hope is for movement to be normal for a longer period of time. In LBD, the break down of the brain cells is much faster than in Parkinson disease. It is especially important to exercise regularly and strenuously for as long as possible with a diagnosis of LBD.
Walking is the best exercise to continue being able to walk! Besides maintaining maximum strength, stamina, and coordination in the muscles of the legs, walking helps urinary function and bowel action. Constipation and nausea are not uncommon in LBD. The more walking, the easier bowel movements should be. Nausea may stop or decrease significantly if constipation is not a problem.
· Walking exercises the heart and lungs. Strengthening the vital organs is always a good idea. Keep the motors running. Voice projection can increase from a whisper to normal with better lung output and deeper breaths.
· The immune system that fights infections and colds runs more efficiently with regular walking. Sweating and increased circulation generated by walking helps to clean out the systems of the body that fight germs.
· Fatigue is an ever present problem with neurological diseases. Walking can actually help someone gain energy to fight fatigue. The science explaining why exercise can make people with a neuromotor disease less fatigued is still a mystery.
· For my husband, there was a connection between walking ability and mental clarity. During the times when Dean needed only minimal assistance to walk, we were able to have great conversations. If he woke foggy-brained, I started with the wheelchair and expected a day with many naps.
To practice walking, I modified. We progressed from full independence to walking with my support. When he was less able, we used a cane, walker or wheelchair at various times of the day. When stamina was poor, I arranged chairs around the house so he didn’t have to walk very far before he could sit. A roller walker with a seat is also a good device when stamina is poor.
The type of exercise is not as important as finding something that will be done regularly. Dean played tennis and walked. Other people have reported feeling better with cycling, swimming, or dancing. It is a personal preference. The body doesn’t care how it exercises, just that it does. Equally important is the benefit to the caregiver. All effort that our loved ones generate saves time and energy for us. It’s much easier to get someone out of bed, onto the toilet, or into a car when the weakened person can stand on his feet with some balance and self control. Many caregivers must give up caregiving because they just can’t lift the sick person anymore. In fact, caregivers, both in homes and in assisted living centers, have a high incidence of back problems as a result of trying to move someone who is too weak to help themselves.
1. White, DK, Wagenaar RC, Ellis TD, Tickle-Degnen L. Changes in walking activity and endurance following rehabilitation for people with Parkinson disease. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2009 Jan:90(1):43-50.
Excerpt edited from Living with Lewy Body Dementia, One Caregiver’s Personal, In-Depth Experience, Judy Towne Jennings. Westbow Press, IN, 2012.
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