Chair Yoga May Help Mitigate Dementia Symptoms, New Study Finds
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.
When we hear the term "dementia," we often think of memory loss, and that makes sense. Memory impairment is an early indicator of dementia—but the disease can manifest in many ways, from the cognitive and behavioral to the physical. Language skills, visual perception, problem-solving, and the ability to focus are functions that can deteriorate during different stages of dementia, which can lead to feelings of depression, social withdrawal, and disengagement. But according to new research, gentle activity, like chair yoga, could help ease those symptoms.
A new study from Florida Atlantic University found that chair yoga—a type of yoga that's practiced either seated in a chair or standing, using a chair for support—improved the quality of life and overall behavior of older adults with advanced dementia. And when compared to music therapy, chair yoga was a more effective tool for lowering their depression.
Study participants included adults 60 years or older who were diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, Lewy body dementia, and Parkinson's disease dementia. Participants took part in 45-minute chair yoga sessions twice a day for a total of 12 weeks.
Researchers reported that 97% of participants were able to fully engage in the session, and though some participants exhibited agitation, they still reported a higher quality-of-life score. This quality-of-life score took factors like "physical condition, mood, functional abilities, interpersonal relationships, ability to participate in meaningful activities, and final situations" into account.
"It's important to note that quality of life is a more comprehensive approach to biopsychosocial and behavioral function than a mere measure of agitation," says Juyoung Park, Ph.D., lead author and an associate professor in the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work. "Meditation and the mind-body connection component of the chair yoga program may have increased quality of life for participants in this study. This finding is consistent with our earlier studies that showed a targeted approach was successful in increasing quality of life in patients with dementia."
Aside from being a low-impact activity done in a safe environment, chair yoga allows anyone to stretch, strengthen muscles, and work on flexibility without fear of falling. As the study notes, chair yoga also incorporates breathing and relaxation techniques while focusing on various muscle groups. Breathwork, as we know, has a multitude of physical and mental benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety, better sleep, chronic headache relief, and more. The same has been found for relaxation techniques, like meditation and stretching.
Park adds, "It is fascinating that, although some participants showed mild levels of agitation or wandering in the intervention room prior to the yoga session, they became calm and attentive when the yoga interventionist started demonstrating yoga poses."
At present, 50 million people have dementia worldwide—and 60 to 70% of those people have Alzheimer's. As we look to the future, it's important that we ask ourselves what we can do to protect our own brain health, improve others' brain health, and provide a higher quality of life for the millions living with this disease. We're hoping (more than ever) that science can bring these numbers down.