Elevating mental agility: How yoga empowers older women to defend against Alzheimer’s

Yoga may reduce stress and improve mood in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

Memory, thinking, language and behavior problems are caused by Alzheimer’s disease because brain cells degenerate and waste away. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are approximately 5.8 million Americans over the age of 65 who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This number is projected to increase to nearly 13 million by the year 2050 [1].

Despite its devastating effects, Alzheimer’s does not have a cure. Some symptoms and challenges associated with Alzheimer’s may be alleviated by incorporating complementary approaches, like yoga, into care.

There is limited research on yoga and its impact on Alzheimer’s disease, but anecdotal evidence suggests that yoga could reduce stress, calm agitation, and improve mood [2].

Why yoga for older adults?

In modern yoga, poses, breathing exercises and meditation are incorporated. Mind-body interventions (MBIs) focus on the relationship between the brain, mind and body. Those living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia may find yoga a relatively safe form of movement.

Typically, yoga for Alzheimer’s patients involves gentle movements performed slowly and easily. Generally, a yoga class lasts 10 to 30 minutes, shorter than typical yoga sessions.

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In what ways does yoga benefit people with Alzheimer’s?

An individual’s physical ability and motor skills can be considered when designing a sequence. The instructors never force movements, and participants are encouraged to do what they can. Alzheimer’s patients can feel empowered and self-determined by doing this. 

People with moderate or severe dementia, or those with balance issues or who cannot sit on the floor, may benefit from chair yoga. During chair yoga, you either stand or sit while doing the poses.

Yoga poses like Mountain, Prayer poses or any of the various Warrior poses can be done from a seated position for chair yoga. The benefits of improved posture, hip flexibility, and leg, ankle, and foot strengthening apply whether seated or standing. Classes designed for people with Alzheimer’s usually emphasize mindfulness teachings and physical movements.

How does yoga affect brain function?

The benefits of physical activity extend beyond overall well-being to a reduced risk of cognitive decline. According to several 2018 studies published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, exercise may delay cognitive decline in individuals at risk of Alzheimer’s disease [3].

Researchers believe exercise lowers dementia risk by improving vascular health, leading to better brain health. Brain cells benefit directly from increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain.

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Although most yoga forms, especially those geared toward people with Alzheimer’s, are not intense enough to qualify as aerobic exercise, there is some indication that they may still offer similar cognitive benefits. According to a study review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [4], mind-body exercise (like tai chi and yoga) can enhance cognitive function in older adults.

Nevertheless, according to the study authors, further research is needed to reach a more definitive conclusion.

A recent study on yoga for Alzheimer’s

A UCLA Health study found that Kundalini yoga, a form of yoga emphasizing breath control, meditation and visualization techniques, was beneficial for older women with Alzheimer’s disease risk factors and concerns about memory loss [5].

UCLA scientists used a specific form of MRI to monitor activity in different brain areas and sub-areas. They found that Kundalini yoga, which combines movement and meditation and focuses on breathing, mantra recitation, and mental visualization, enhanced the connectivity of a part of the brain that is impacted by stress and is associated with memory decline. Recently, the findings were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Under the direction of UCLA psychiatrist Dr Helen Lavretsky, UCLA researchers studied the effects of yoga versus memory enhancement training (MET) on connectivity across the hippocampus, one of the brain’s most critical learning and memory centers. MET comprises techniques that use visual and verbal association and practical strategies to improve memory.

“Alzheimer’s yoga” may offer brain-health benefits to older adults, especially those with disabilities or symptoms that make vigorous exercise difficult [6]. Scientists have yet to understand the mechanisms fully.

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[1] https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5843960/
[3] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jgs.15241
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6313783/
[5] https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad221159
[6] https://www.uclahealth.org/news/older-women-risk-alzheimers-disease-may-benefit-yoga

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