How One Gymnastics Organization Uses Movement And Music To Help People With Dementia Regain Independence

Harnessing the power of "muscle confusion."

The British Gymnastics Foundation (BGF) has a new program that aims to help people with dementia in the U.K. get their independence back, and it wants people to know why its is working. The Love to Move program, as it's been dubbed, involves applying gymnastics in the form of chair exercises, and incorporates bilateral asymmetrical movements, music, conversation, interactive partner activities, and, above all, humor.

Dementia is a long-term limiting illness that has become a key concern in the U.K., which is why BGF has made it its core area of work in addressing disabilities. In November 2015, it launched the pilot of its program Love to Move, which went through June 2016, and continues to show considerable benefits today.

So how does the BGF Love to Move program specifically help combat symptoms of dementia, and how does physical activity play a role? Well, it's not the physical activity alone, but a combination of eight core activity themes: meeting and greeting; gentle warm-up exercises; facial expressions and arms crossing the mid-body line; bilaterally asymmetrical patterns; paper, scissors, [rock] game; partner working; cognitive stimulation activity; and relax and wind-down exercise. In addition, the activity leaders incorporate music — that is familiar and sentimental to the participants — in with these exercises. The bilateral asymmetrical movement exercises seem to carry the most significance in the program.



Courtesy Love to Move
Courtesy Love to Move

Bilateral Asymmetrical Movement Patterns

Anyone who has been to a gym has heard the term "muscle confusion." It's a concept that employs using various workout regimens, and changing them up constantly so the body doesn't get lazy or hit a plateau and stop building muscle.

Performing bilateral asymmetrical movement patterns is a similar concept to muscle confusion. These bilateral asymmetrical movement patterns are one of the key components to the Love to Move program because it stimulates the brain cells and improves coordination. This is important in increasing your brain's cognitive reserve. Focusing on two different motions (like patting your head while rubbing your belly) fires off motor neurons. By constantly firing motor neurons in the brain that have the potential to crisscross hemispheres, your brain is naturally challenging itself to create new neural pathways. It's all about coordination. Moreover, coupling movement pattern exercises while listening to music has the potential to double those efforts.

Courtesy Love to Move
Courtesy Love to Move

How Music Plays a Role

Familiar songs can trigger deep, meaningful memories from our past. Listening to music affects the brain and mood by engaging emotion, memory, learning and neuroplasticity, and attention. These are all things that tend to deteriorate with dementia. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. Music creates peak emotions, which increases the amount of dopamine released (a neurotransmitter involved in the brain's reward and pleasure centers). This helps combat depression. Moreover, evidence suggests exercise may directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain. So, by combining physical activities with music, people suffering from dementia can create new neural pathways that essentially rewire themselves to reconnect to memories they previously could not access, while working on strengthening the body (body-over-mind cohesion).

BGF credits its idea for this treatment from an exercise program that was already being used in Japan with beneficial results. It was backed by government funding, which allowed its operation within care homes throughout Japan specifically developed for people living with dementia. The World Health Statistics 2017 report still shows Japan as holding the highest life expectancy in the world at 83.7 years. It's doing something right when it comes to health and longevity, so BGF decided to follow suit.

The goal of BGF is to share its newfound knowledge of how people living with dementia have benefited from taking part in the Love to Move program, and to make this program more accessible to all adults living with dementia everywhere.

The results have had a positive effect on emotions, memory, social engagement, and overall quality of life for the participants involved in the Love to Move program. The exercises help to develop coordination, balance, core strength, flexibility, and encourages conversation. One woman, whose story BGF highlights on its website, began taking part in the program twice a week and has since regained her independence, and moved back home. Other participants now have better hand dexterity so they can feed themselves, do crafts, play bingo, socialize, and walk better. The British Gymnastics Foundation is onto something here. Even if it isn't a cure for now, the Love to Move program shows potential in treating dementia.

(H/T: British Gymnastics Foundation)