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Fitness class geared for those with early stage dementia

A recent North Shore Neighbourhood House pilot program is aiming to emphasize physical activity for both the body and mind for people living with dementia.
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A recent North Shore Neighbourhood House pilot program is aiming to emphasize physical activity for both the body and mind for people living with dementia.

The program, called Mind and Body Fitness for People with Dementia, is administered by the neighbourhood house at John Braithwaite Community Centre in North Vancouver and is scheduled to run every Monday from 1 to 3 p.m. until Dec. 11.

The program includes weekly sessions that will feature mild physical exercise, as well as games, creative activities and social interaction.

Longtime North Shore fitness instructor Gail Roxburgh is excited to be leading the program. She has taught other programs at John Braithwaite through the neighbourhood house in the past, in addition to numerous other fitness sessions throughout the community.

“When I started there I had no idea about dementia or Alzheimer’s and then I began really figuring out where I could take courses and start working with people with dementia. Also, I’m a fitness instructor so both of them kind of work together because fitness is such a big part of everybody’s life with dementia,” Roxburgh told the North Shore News.

She added that the program is best suited for people living with early stage dementia or mild cognitive impairment and the intake process for the pilot program includes a short screening interview to ensure a good fit for the individual.

“This program will be strictly for people with the early stages of dementia. We’re taking our time doing it because for each person we’re kind of interviewing them to see if it’s a fit for the program because some people might be in another stage,” she said.

She said generally the first hour of the program is devoted to low-key physical exercise, including aerobics, strengthening and balance work. “It’s beneficial for many, many reasons,” she said.

One of the prime focuses of the program is maintaining participants’ strengths and abilities, even as their cognitive functions might be changing.

Roxburgh said she likes how outright the program is about who it’s intended for.

“To come into a centre and see an actual program saying this is for people with dementia – before we might not have that out because some people wouldn’t want to see it and there’s still a little bit of stigma – so now it’s right out there,” she said.

Participants are encouraged to attend the program on their own or with a caregiver.

If the pilot program, which has been running since September, proves successful the neighbourhood house anticipates offering more in the new year. Either way, Roxburgh emphasized that the crux of the programming is about focusing on and strengthening the abilities that participants with early stage dementia or mild cognitive impairment already have.

“We’re trying to strengthen the abilities they’ve got. It’s more on not what they can’t do – it’s more what they can do,” she said.

To learn more about North Shore Neighbourhood House programs, visit nsnh.bc.ca.

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