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How Recreational Therapy Can Aid in Cognition for Individuals Living with Early-Onset Alzheimer's

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month! Did you know almost 5% of Alzheimer’s cases are diagnosed before the age of 65? This is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer's Association identifies more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's. If we do the math, approximately 300,000 live with the young-onset form of the disease. Roughly 1 in 9 people over the age of 55 are diagnosed with some form of dementia every year, and social isolation causes about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia according to the Center for Disease Control.

There are many ways to help adults and seniors living with brain change. EmpoweRT provides non-pharmacological approaches combining recreational therapy (RT) and exercise science to meet you or your loved one's needs, including persons living with early-onset Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

There are many ways to enhance your brain activity and keep your brain and body active, but the most significant ways are exercise and participation in meaningful recreation. A study published last year by The Alzheimer’s Association found that patients with early onset form of Alzheimer’s who exercised for at least 2 1/2 hours a week had better cognitive performance and fewer signs of Alzheimer’s than those who didn’t. Other studies have also found that physical exercise has other beneficial effects, including slowing the rate of cognitive decline in healthy people as well as those at risk of dementia, and those who already have it. RT uniquely utilizes exercise as part of active recreation participation for our clients.

Research for persons living with dementia who engage in meaningful recreation showed outcomes related to "improved mood, reduced agitation, and improved quality of life. 20-60 minutes of activities daily with skill level and interest well matched to that of the person living with dementia have been shown to have the most benefit" (de Oliveira et al., 2015; Kolanowski, Litaker, & Buettner, 2005). Recreational therapists receive specialized education and training to develop such therapeutic skillsets and outcomes.

Along with the physical aspects of recreation, EmpoweRT aims to help the secondary concerns that come with brain change as well. Experts estimate that up to 40 percent of people with Alzheimer's disease suffer from significant depression, according to the Alzheimer's Association. With these statistics, it is crucial that people living with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia engage in programming that helps not just their physical well-being but their overall health.

Due to social isolation, and lack of community connection, many older American's tend to spend most of their time indoors. Combined with all of these physical, mental and situational barriers, EmpoweRT aims to help our clients get outside in nature as much as possible! It has been shown that as little as 10 to 15 minutes outdoors can be highly beneficial, especially for someone living with dementia, which on top of physical exercise, provides a chance to engage the senses, and an ability to spark memories with familiar surroundings.

So what might a recreational therapy session look like? Well, that’s up to the patient. We aim to provide services that participants feel engaged and stimulated by incorporating past or new leisure interests to help achieve their goals. Keeping their bodies moving in turn keeps their minds active. It truly is person-centered! Recreational therapy encompasses a range of opportunities with examples of sports, yoga, animal-assisted therapy, passive/active games, and expressive therapies, such as music, art and dance. We will find what works for you and adapt it to meet your needs. Reinvent your passion.

To learn more about how EmpoweRT creates individualized recreation therapy services and to inquire about a free consultation please visit:

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1 Comment

Deborah Campoy
Deborah Campoy
Jun 14, 2021

This is a great article, thank you. I agree completely. As a practicing recreational therapist, I have worked with many patients/clients with dementia using a variety of facilitation techniques as you describe. And guided exercise is also essential for this population as typically someone needs to plan, schedule, and safely guide the sessions.

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