Teaching chair yoga has been the gateway to teaching meaningful yoga. Moving entirely away from working in gyms and yoga studios, I was able to reach people that may have otherwise never practiced yoga before. People who are older or less able. People, like me, who are chronically ill and have thought that not all typical “yoga spaces” are suitable for them, yet they are bound to benefit greatly from the practice. This is also true for people living with Dementia.
Teaching chair based yoga to people living with dementia is different in many ways. Understanding how dementia affects people and their families and then considering the skills required to facilitate yoga for this particular demographic is a great starting point.
Dementia is a term used to describe more than a hundred different conditions that cause forgetfulness and cognitive challenges. This includes, and is not limited to, changes in behaviour, memory loss, language (speaking and understanding), difficulty reasoning & processing information. Dementia is a progressive disease, so eventually the cognitive challenges become so great that they affect all aspects of daily living. It typically affects people over 65 years of age, but age in itself is not a contributing factor to the progression of the disease.
Types of Dementia
Some of the most common types of known diseases leading to dementia are:
• Alzheimer’s which creates tangles and plaques in the brain due to unexplained brain tissue changes. Alzheimer’s affects the majority of those living with Dementia. The severity of it depends on the location of the tangles & plaques in the brain, which commonly also lead to Vascular Dementia.
• Vascular dementia may be a result of a stroke or progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The blood flow to the brain is interrupted and it causes brain changes which subsequently compromises cognitive abilities.
• Lewy body is a very slow progressive type of dementia, which typically causes hallucinations. It may be evident in the later stages of Parkinson’s disease too.
• Mixed dementia is usually what you describe as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia together. This is the most popular form of dementia.
• Other causes of dementia are alcohol abuse, later stages of Parkinson’s disease. Severe forms of Multiple Sclerosis.
The varied symptoms of dementia and way it can affect brain function means that there is also a wide range of experiences of the disease.
People may struggle to remember recent events, names, people places.
They can have a difficulty thinking and reasoning. A conversation or a train of thought can become very challenging and words are lost.
People living with dementia are often left feeling confused & disorientated.
Behaviour changes too over time, while cognitive challenges leave people feeling anxious, easily agitated or even angry.
Dementia has a big impact on all living with the condition including carers and their families.
Simple things can become challenging in the daily life of someone living with dementia:
– Shower and dress
– Travel and getting out and about
– Grocery shopping
– General communication
Yoga and Dementia
Depending on the severity and experience of the symptoms of those living with Dementia it is hard to imagine how the practice of yoga, at any level, can even be possible. Some of the challenges yoga teachers face when they try to bring yoga to people living with dementia are:
– Engaging with the students
– Maintaining focus through the class
– Communicating activity across effectively
– Avoiding boredom and listlessness
– Handling student emotional outbursts or aggression.
– Student walking out (wandering, walking with purpose)
– Physical limitation due to age
By understanding all the daily challenges people living with Dementia are faced with we can begin to understand how to approach teaching yoga to them also. Only then we, the facilitators of yoga, can be placed in a better position to serve people living with dementia and their families
THERAPEUTIC APPROACHES IN THE PRACTICE OF YOGA FOR PEOPLE LIVING WITH DEMENTIA
More Than Asana:
Chair Based Yoga serves a purpose greater than asana. Asana is incredibly beneficial but there is more ways students living with dementia can benefit from its practice:
– Asana can promote functional movement, the kind that allows one to get up and get dressed in the morning, reach high and low.
– People living with dementia are typically older and are at higher risk of experiencing a fall. The practice of yoga asana is beneficial in order to promote standing strength and balance
– Asana practice can improve focus and coordination, which works towards maintaining or improving cognitive reserve.
Be person centred
Teach the student not the asana. People living with dementia benefit greatly from taking part in group activities, but they are often faced with attitudes that undermines their personhood and leaves them feeling frustrated, lonely, excluded. This is entirely contrary to the practice of yoga.
As facilitators of yoga our job is to make it a positive intervention in the lives of those we teach:
– Offer adapted practices that our students are able to do, they can engage with and are effective. This fosters inclusion more than anything else.
– Fosters connection, a sense of community and provide opportunities to feel welcomed, at ease and comfortable. This is true for both those living with dementia and their carers.
Ultimately everyone wants to feel loved, included and valued and being person centred can achieve that.
The use of appropriate music promotes reminiscence. Reminiscence has been scientifically proven to promote wellbeing amongst those with dementia. In the practice of yoga appropriate music from the past combined with asana has multidimensional benefits for those living with dementia:
– It is engaging and fun!
– When used appropriately, utilising rhythm, beat & lyric to movement, it can maintain or improve focus coordination and cognitive reserve.
Music in yoga classes for people living with dementia is a tool that becomes another way of making yoga a positive intervention in the lives of those with dementia.