Program gets dementia, Alzheimer's patients exercise

November 10, 2011

Sensible Fitness is designed especially for people with dementia and Alzheimer's. The program started two years ago at Aging Care Connections in La Grange. Sensible Fitness classes are making significant differences for individuals and their caregivers.

For 50 minutes twice a week, Suzanne Gray and her staff are keeping everyone active.

Gray, owner of Right Fit, created the program from research and common sense.

"We started with some trigger release because a lot of these individuals have postural issues. They're weak in their core, so we teach them how to sort of massage each other with a basic stick. Then we go into breathing exercises because we tend to breathe. We're stressed from the upper part of our lungs then we go -- probably what's most significant -- the loss of grip strength," Gray said.

Many of the activities are recommended at home. Exercises that stimulate brain functions are essential for that population.

"You can see how they came in, some of them a little sleepy. When they leave, they're talking and laughing. The mood change is phenomenal," Gray said.

"The medications all tend to do what we don't want to do, is decrease physical activity, 'cause you know and I know when you stop moving there's significant issues and problems there," said Gray.

Norma Allan's husband Henry is 88 years old and has Alzheimer's. They have been coming to Sensible Fitness since it started.

"It's just amazing for him. If you saw him come in, you can see he can barely walk; he has to use a walker," Allan said. "By the time we leave here, he thinks he's totally well again and walks much faster, and he's happy."

Aging Care Connections' director of social services Louise Starmann said the program has been uplifting for everyone.

"They seem to be more animated when they leave here. The other part of it that I think is so great is that the couples together because it's a person who has dementia with their caregiver, so together they do the exercises, and the caregivers also look a whole lot happier when they leave here," said Starmann.

Gray said she hopes to expand Sensible Fitness.

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