Treating Dementia With Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and Yoga

Traci Pedersen writes in Spirituality & Health: Do you know someone who suffers from dementia? Witnessing a loved one slowly lose their memory and reasoning skills can be a very painful experience. Dementia is a persistent syndrome that tends to get worse over time–affecting memory, thinking, and behavior. It is distinct from Alzheimer’s in that Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, but general dementia can stem from a variety of unrelated brain illnesses.

Natural and holistic remedies are gaining in popularity as they continue to prove themselves capable of offering relief to sufferers of mental ailments. The knowledge that the body is a whole system (not just a group of unrelated parts) is growing in popularity, and people are noticing that when one part of the body becomes ill, it affects all the rest. And when the whole body is strong, the parts don’t break down as easily or as often.

In fact, a new study, published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, suggests that patients with dementia can benefit from a holistic exercise program. By combining the elements of yoga, tai chi, qigong and meditation, researchers from Teesside University in the U.K. helped dementia patients improve memory recall in certain areas and enjoy themselves as well.

For the study, fifteen dementia patients (ages 52 to 86), five caregivers, and two volunteers participated in the ‘Happy Antics’ program–a holistic exercise class that targets the whole patient: emotionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. The classes began with mental activities followed by a holistic exercise program with elements of tai chi, yoga, qigong, and dance. The class ended with a guided meditation that focused on breathing and mindful awareness.

All participants reported that they enjoyed the classes and looked forward to them. They also felt like the sessions offered social benefits. Some patients reported feeling greater relaxation and pain relief. For some participants, the exercises felt “empowering.”

By the sixth session, even though dementia patients could not remember what had occurred during the previous class, six participants were able to anticipate the physical movements that went along with specific music. Three patients remembered the whole sequence, said researcher Yvonne J-Lyn Khoo, BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD, of the Health and Social Care Institute at Teesside University. This suggests that a holistic exercise program has the potential to help maintain procedural memory –a type of automatic memory created through repetition.

Overall, the holistic exercise program was able to stimulate and engage dementia patients, provide a positive social learning environment, and offer potential psychological benefits as well, said Khoo.

Traci Pedersen is a professional freelance writer who specializes in psychology, science, health, and spiritual themes. Some of her most recent work includes covering the latest research news in science and psychology, writing science chapter books for elementary students, and developing teacher resource books. When she is not researching and writing, she is spending time with her family, reading anything and everything, and going to the beach as often as possible.

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