Worldwide, 47.5 million people suffer from dementia, a condition that leads, inevitably, to a severe decline in mental abilities. In America alone, every 66 seconds, someone is diagnosed with dementia, the most common form of which is Alzheimer's disease.
Fortunately, people are living with Alzheimer's derive a number of of benefits from physical activity, including increased blood flow to the brain, which improves cognition, encourages healthy sleep patterns, and facilitates improved social interaction.
At the same time, those who are afflicted often have difficulty navigating the environment around them—spatially, audibly, intellectually, and socially. And, in a number of countries, laws or regulations require that businesses and public places provide access to people with disabilities like Alzheimer's. In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one such law.
The question then becomes, how can IHRSA clubs accommodate this population? To answer that question, you'll want to take note of what two Canadian facilities are doing.
The Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks General Hospital
This certified medical fitness center in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, runs an eight-week program, Minds in Motion, in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba, for people with mild to moderate dementia. For two hours a week, certified fitness staff lead exercise sessions, and then the staff from the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba facilitates socially stimulating mental activities. To ensure each participant's safety, a buddy system is used: everyone who partakes in the program signs up with a support person, such as a family member or friend. Or, they're matched with a volunteer from the Society.
Karin Whalen, director of community service at The Wellness Institute, credits the program's initial and ongoing success to the institute's partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba, which serves as a resource for instructor training and general advice.
To get started, The Wellness Institute volunteered to be the pilot location for the Minds in Motion program. Likewise, Whalen suggests that you contact an Alzheimer's group in your area to see if you can do something similar.
The Northwood Pauline Potter Fitness Centre
Located at Northwood, a not-for-profit independent living and long-term care facility in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, the Pauline Potter Fitness Centre prides itself on being the first gym in North America designed specifically for people living with dementia. It opened a year ago in partnership with specialists at the University of Stirling in Stirling, Scotland.
Natasha Handspiker, fitness manager for the center, points to several best practices that ensure both inclusiveness and safety: a strategic layout and a supportive staff, careful member on-boarding, and communication with caretakers.
With regard to layout, the walls, floor, and equipment all have different colors. The equipment units are arranged in a circle, with a staff person in the middle, and each has a visual aid that members can refer to during a workout.
Because that staff person has a 360-degree view, they can provide assistance, cues, or reminders, as needed. To make sure that they're knowledgeable and confident when working with these members, they receive in-house education on the challenges of living with dementia.
Before joining the center, all individuals must complete a health information questionnaire, which includes questions about dementia. Those with the condition are given a form that their physician must complete, which asks for the patient's fitness history and a recommendation for an exercise regimen. The form is updated three times each year to monitor progression of the disease.
Communication with caretakers is key to providing a pleasant environment at the center. Should the member start to exhibit behavioral changes that are disruptive, the center should work with the caretaker to ensure access to physical activity. For example, the member could transition to a long-term care facility with recreational offerings.
In lieu of a formal program, what can you do if you know that a member has Alzheimer's? If it's clear that they find your busy club overwhelming, you may want to suggest one-on-one training or group exercise.
You could also inquire whether the member would be more comfortable bringing a support person to the club (at no cost).
Finally, if you're already working with this population, your experience will be valuable to other IHRSA members. To share what you've learned, please take IHRSA's three-minute health promotion survey.