Regular practice of chair yoga increases well-being, level of support, and is well tolerated with no adverse effects, according to a new study on yoga and ageing. This is the latest in a series of promising findings of yoga in older adults that are casting light on the many ways in which some yoga approaches may help boost the quality of life of older people and their caregivers.

“Whether yoga and exercise can help people with dementia is something we still don’t fully understand,” said Jaclyn Jones, M.D., assistant professor in the Michigan State University College of Public Health and senior author of the study. “But we have some good early evidence that in some cases they can make a difference.” “Especially as more people are living long enough to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, it’s important to understand the interventions that may be beneficial,” she said.  

“Yoga is a comprehensive mind-body-spirit system that has inherent healing properties,” notes founder Timothy Burgin. “I’m not surprised to hear how yoga can positively affect the physical and mental well-being of older adults.”

 The research team, led by Joan Pelham, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Rehabilitation & Memory, analyzed the health records of 1,464 older adults who were part of the Washington, D.C., Veteran Affairs Longitudinal Study on Ageing. They found that 579 (32 percent) reported using yoga in the last 12 months, and 342 (15 percent) had used the exercise. Across all stages of ageing, the use of yoga was associated with better well-being and a better quality of life, and the improvements were sustained even as participants aged. The positive effects were particularly pronounced for individuals with more advanced dementia. In fact, when the researchers restricted their study to participants at advanced stages of dementia, yoga and exercise were associated with a 33 percent reduction in the occurrence of depression and increased social and leisure participation, all of which are important factors to maintain quality of life.

“This study is the first to focus on the benefits of yoga for older adults with dementia, and we hope our results will translate into health care providers and caregivers as yoga becomes more widespread in senior communities,” Pelham said. The researchers also found that yoga reduced anxiety, and this may have made a significant impact on clinical outcomes. Anxiety and depression are common symptoms of dementia, and evidence is emerging that these conditions can exacerbate its symptoms. “This is especially true for patients with advanced dementia, who often have very specific, functional limitations that can hinder other aspects of daily living,” she said. “It can be hard for them to understand how yoga can help them or their caregivers cope.”  

Pelham noted that even if a cognitively impaired older person is able to try yoga, many caregivers don’t understand why their loved one would want to do yoga, but it may be a valuable and relaxing addition to daily life. “For a patient who has dementia, yoga may have the feel of being different, because it offers a different sense of sensory connectedness and connection to people and nature,” she said. “These social connectedness and support benefits increase social engagement, which is important to maintain the quality of life.”


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