Benefits of chair yoga extend to seniors with dementia, study finds

A study by Florida Atlantic University found that remotely supervised online chair yoga is a feasible and effective option for managing physical and psychological symptoms in socially isolated older adults with dementia.

Over the past few years, the demonstrated benefits of chair yoga have become more and more clear: increased flexibility, pain relief, better sleep, and improved mental well-being, to name a few.

Now a new study has found that we can add “helping seniors who have dementia” to that list.

The study, conducted by researchers at Florida Atlantic University, evaluated an online chair yoga intervention targeted at older adults with dementia.

We take a look at the results below.

The study: assessing whether chair yoga is an option for these vulnerable seniors

The study assessed the feasibility of this intervention and explored the relationship between chair yoga and clinical outcomes of pain interference, mobility, risk of falling, sleep disturbance, autonomic reactivity, and loneliness.

Results of the study, published in the journal Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practiceshowed that remotely supervised online chair yoga is a feasible approach for managing physical and psychological symptoms in socially isolated older adults with dementia.

Online chair yoga makes it newly accessible to seniors with dementia

Dementia doesn’t just involve cognitive decline, it also involves deteriorating physical function.

This major cause of limitation in activities of daily living in older adults with dementia requires safe, effective, and evidence-based nonpharmacological approaches.

One such approach is chair yoga.

A non-invasive and low-impact intervention, chair yoga is practiced sitting or standing using a chair for support and combines flexibility, balance, strength, breathing, relaxation, and mindfulness training.

The barriers to conventional yoga are surprisingly many

Unfortunately, barriers such as lack of transportation, living in rural areas, and relying on caregivers have prevented many older adults with dementia from participating in group-based in-person chair yoga classes.

These burdens call for an innovative way to deliver a chair yoga intervention for those who cannot travel to a community center. 

“The considerable time and cost associated with traveling to in-person yoga sessions over several weeks could be burdensome to many patients,” said Juyoung Park, the study’s lead author.

Online chair yoga helps to overcome these challenges

“This finding is important, as older adults with dementia and their caregivers may be challenged in attempts to attend chair yoga programs at community facilities,” said Park.

Their chair yoga intervention “was found to be convenient for both participants and their caregivers,” Park said, “because it was easily accessible from home and did not require transportation or getting dressed, which reduced caregiver burden and stress.”

Details of the study

Participants in this study took part in twice-weekly, 60-minute sessions for eight weeks.

During the chair yoga session, the yoga interventionist was spotlighted in the Zoom screen to allow participants to see only the interventionist.

This enabled participants to focus on the yoga sessions without being distracted by other participants on the screen.

The participants worked with a certified yoga interventionist and their caregivers and practiced breathing techniques and intentional practice; physical postures; and guided relaxation and visualization.

Participants also interacted on Zoom with other participants or with the facilitator to maintain social bonds while maintaining physical distance.

Results: the benefits of chair yoga for this group were loud and clear

Importantly, online chair yoga classes provide a means of reducing health disparities by opening access to interventions for persons who are unable to travel to a clinic or facility.  

“An important feature of our technology-based intervention is that it could allow socially isolated older adults with dementia who are living at home, especially those in underserved communities where people are becoming more digitally connected, to receive remotely supervised chair yoga that provides physical, social and psychological benefits,” said the study-s co-author Lisa Ann Kirk Wiese.

“Results from our study can inform future research and practice in the implementation of online chair yoga or other exercise programs for promoting health and wellness in older adults with dementia living at home,” said Park.

Conclusion: chair yoga is a promising new avenue for these seniors

Overall, chair yoga is a great way for seniors with dementia to get some exercise and improve their flexibility and mental well-being.

It’s important to find a class or instructor that is familiar with working with seniors with dementia, so that the class can be tailored to their needs.

With regular practice, chair yoga can be a great way for seniors with dementia to improve their quality of life.

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