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Yoga Can Help the Elderly Combat Dementia

The total cost of dementia in New Zealand is $1.7 billion, and by 2050, when 170,000 Kiwis are expected to be living with the condition, that cost will rise to $5 billion. It’s no surprise that those in the aged care industry are interested in anything that can help prevent the condition or alleviate symptoms.

In the last few years, there have been some small studies that show that yoga and meditation may help dementia patients. Yoga is more than just people bending their bodies into strange shapes; it’s a 5,000-year-old discipline that includes breathing, meditation and flexibility, and it’s this mix that makes it so good for dementia patients.

The Studies

In the first study, patients with dementia and their caregivers were involved in a regular group program that included breathing exercises, meditation and group discussion as well as exercise such as tai chi, yoga and qigong. Both patients and caregivers found the group helped them feel supported and relaxed.

A more involved study included yoga and meditation as part of a 36-point therapeutic program. Although the study only involved a small group, nine of the ten participants showed memory actually improving. A third study showed that yoga and meditation were more effective at improving memory than crosswords and brain training, which are normally recommended.

Many of these studies involve Kundalini Yoga, a form of the exercise focused on breathing, meditation and chanting as well as the poses yoga is known for. This form of yoga is a moving meditation and can help minimise dementia risk factors as well as help treatment of those already diagnosed.

Dementia Risk Factors

The biggest dementia risk factor is getting old. That’s not something that can be halted, but other risk factors are significantly improved by yoga and meditation.


It’s already known that stress can affect your memory, but studies on mice have shown that it increases the protein beta-amyloid, which is associated with Alzheimer’s. Yoga can help control stress by giving people time out to stop, breathe and concentrate on the moment. Yoga classes can also become a community, another element that helps ease stress.

Poor Sleep

Poor sleep is another risk factor for Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s now believed that beta-amyloid also increases when people miss sleep. Other studies have linked insomnia with the destruction of grey matter in the brain. But many studies have shown that regular yoga practice improves sleep quality, total sleep time and shortens the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.

Other Health Issues

Other health issues including diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol are factors in risks for dementia. An exercise program that also helps ease stress can help treat all these conditions and mitigate the dementia risk factor.

What this Means for Aged Care Businesses

Baby Boomers are looking for more from their aged care than the generations before them. They are also expecting to live longer, and often this means living longer with memory-related conditions. Specialised dementia care is being offered at more aged care facilities, including specific dementia-care villages in some larger homes.

Yoga can become part of the features offered to residents. For those already in dementia care, yoga can be added to their treatment. For those in more general aged care homes, yoga can be offered as part of healthy living, with an emphasis on the benefits it can have for preventing dementia. People with a new diagnosis have also found that regular yoga or meditation practice can help them come to terms with their new circumstances.

For business owners that aren’t in the residential living space, this information can still help build their businesses. Yoga teachers can add classes aimed at dementia patients and their caregivers. They can also offer meditation or yoga classes at aged care groups.

Although the benefits of yoga on dementia need to be studied further, yoga is still a great addition to the aged care mix. As the studies continue, yoga can already help reduce stress, improve sleep and treat other health issues that can increase the risk of dementia.