Neurocognitive Effects of Yoga as a Rehabilitation Intervention for Dementia Patients


Fabiana Bracho, M.S. Katiarina S. Rodriguez, M.S.

Neurocognitive disorders can be described as a decline in mental abilities that can be detrimental to everyday life functioning. Patients who suffer from neurocognitive disorders, like Dementia, experience a reduced ability to cognitively process information, have deficits in memory, and struggle with independence in daily life (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Dementia can be caused by diseases, stroke, thyroid issues, vitamin deficiencies, reactions to medications, brain tumors, and more. This can lead to an increase in stress, emotional lability, and interpersonal conflicts. Many intervention programs attempt to alleviate stress caused by this disorder and improve cognitive and physical functioning through various techniques. Studies have shown that mind-body therapies improve physical and mental health in cognitively impaired adults (Anderson, Rogers, Bossen, Testad, & Rose, 2017). This blog analyzes yoga as a cognitive and physical rehabilitation intervention for dementia.

Dementia is a neurocognitive disorder severe enough to intervene with independence and daily life. It is potentially reversible, and some forms of dementia can be temporary and overturned with proper and timely intervention. Yoga, as a physical and meditative exercise practice, has demonstrated a plethora of positive effects on individuals worldwide. Analyzing the effects of yoga as a cognitive and physical rehabilitation intervention for dementia patients with major and mild neurocognitive disorders can propose new techniques to promote better daily functioning. Various research studies have analyzed and addressed yoga as an effective cognitive and physical rehabilitation therapy for elderly patients with mild and major neurocognitive disorders.

Research suggests that dementia patients trained in yoga had better physical and mental health than the control groups. Cognitively, individuals with dementia who practiced concentrative meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga poses performed better on paper-pencil tests of attention, significantly improved in immediate and delayed recall of verbal and visual memory, improved in attention and working memory measures, verbal fluency, executive function and processing speed (Hu, Chang, Prakash, & Chaudhury, 2011; Sivakumar, et al., 2013). Significant improvement in executive functioning and verbal word recall was also seen in the Stroop Word Color Task and Animal Naming after 5 months of intervention (Eyre, et al., 2017). Physical bodily improvements included an increase in body awareness, movement memory and functional skills, balance, gait speed, lowered blood pressure, reduced respiration rate, strengthened cardiopulmonary fitness, enhanced body flexibility, improved muscle strength and endurance, improved balance, and increased joints motion (Fan & Chen, 2011; Mccaffrey, Park, Newman, & Hagen, 2014); Wu, et al., 2014). Social changes included more coherent social interactions and improved interpersonal relationships, including the ability to create new relationships (Wu, et al., 2014).

Research demonstrates that yoga as an intervention resulted in the improved functionality of patients with mild and major neurocognitive disorders, like dementia. Regular practice of meditating and physical activity may reduce neurocognitive decline and can serve as new techniques and practices that could be adopted by professionals working with the geriatric population. Future research should focus on the effects of changing the lifestyle of elderly patients by adding exercise and yoga in early intervention practices to delay the onset of neurocognitive disorders. Future research should also focus on assessing individuals with more severe forms of dementia and conducting a longitudinal study to assess the long-term maintenance effects of yoga on health promotion and neurocognitive performance in the geriatric population.  


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