Imagine going to a new gym to take an exercise class, but you don’t know where to go once you step in the front door. There are no signs to direct you, or available staff to assist. Once you finally find the room, the music is a little too loud and you can’t hear the instructor well. The exercises are complex and changing quickly; you can’t keep up and you don’t feel comfortable asking for help.
It’s not a positive experience and before you even left your house, you had to get past your fear of going to a community exercise class as someone living with dementia.
These are just some of the barriers that people living with dementia may face when attending an exercise class. The DICE – Dementia Inclusive Choices for Exercise – project aims to break down these barriers.
“DICE isn’t about creating new programs; it’s about making the existing exercise community more dementia-friendly. People living with dementia have a right to access support for their health and well-being,” said RIA research scientist and DICE principal investigator Laura Middleton, citing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The DICE team brings diverse perspectives together to support how exercise programs are designed and delivered so they meet the needs of persons living with dementia and their care partners. The training module and many resources now available are the result of researchers, exercise providers, health-care providers, people living with dementia and family care partners coming together to create something meaningful.
Although DICE officially launched on September 21, 2021 World Alzheimer’s Day, Middleton and her team have been working on changing the exercise landscape for people living with dementia for several years. It started with collecting input from individuals living with dementia and their care partners across the country about their barriers to exercise. The team then used that information to develop training and resources to boost participation in physical activity.
Among these tools is “Being Active at Home”, a resource to help people living with dementia stay active during these unprecedented times. Another is a training program for exercise providers on how to deliver exercise programs for people living with dementia. It involves reducing stigma and improving accessibility, knowledge, and inclusion, since many people can be physically active as they live with dementia for years. It also involves using simple language, offering choices and support when clients struggle with attention or memory.
The new DICE website hosts the training modules and all of the resources. The team is also connecting with partners, like the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario and the Ontario Kinesiology Association, to reach more exercise providers. In the future, Middleton aims to embed these tools into kinesiology programs at postsecondary schools, and eventually, broaden the resources to anyone who provides wellness support.
“DICE exists because we know that exercise carries broad physical and mental health benefits for people living with dementia,” said Middleton. “They simply want to participate in the community and be with others.”