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Yoga Connects: Battling Dementia & Celebrating Life

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In January 2018, thanks to funding from Wembley National Stadium Trust and The Aziz Foundation, Elders Voice began to deliver a one year pilot study project named Yoga Connects: Battling Dementia and Celebrating Life with Yoga. 45 weekly classes took place at Elders Voice in Kensal Green with short breaks in between to account for holiday and festive periods. In total, 53 people took part in this pilot project throughout the whole year.

Statistical data has been obtained in two ways. Three questionnaires were handed out to participants and/or their immediate carers/relatives. In situations where we couldn’t obtain relatives’ feedback, care workers were asked for help. The care workers’ feedback was subjective and based on their observations over the course of the year. The first questionnaire helped us establish a starting point for each client, in terms of their mental and physical health, so we could compare future findings with earlier data and track our clients’ progress.Participants
The subjects of this study were older people, people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, older people recovering from stroke, herniated disc, and other health related issues. Each participant was 50+. The majority of participants were existing clients who spend between 1-3 days at our Day Centre. The remaining percentage of participants included older people from local Brent communities, as well as their relatives/carers and our staff.

The main purpose of this study was to look for a link between participation in socio-physical activities and the possible positive effects it might have on older people’s lives, more precisely, we were looking for signs of improvement in their mental and physical wellbeing.

We anticipated an overall reduction of stress by 50%. After 3 months participant’s stress levels had been reduced by 75% and after 12 months participant’s stress levels had been reduced by 83%. This is a significant reduction – 33% more than we were anticipating.
Increase of wellbeing by 50% – the figure we were anticipating to see.
Improvement in body strength by 66% after 12 months of participation, in comparison to 50% after 3 months of participation. Here we saw a 16% rise which is less than we were expecting, however we remain positive as the overall increase is a significant one.
Improved physical functions by 41% after 12 months, in comparison to 33% after 3 months. Here we saw a small but again significant increase of 8%. Overall we had hoped to see a 60% improvement or more.
Increased social interaction by 91% after 12 months, in comparison to 66.6% after 3 months. Here we saw a dramatic increase, that exceeded our expectations. This is a fantastic result!

Additional findings
We have observed an interesting new trend. Immediate carers/relatives found our classes to be a great gateway from stress associated with caring. We’ve been told, that allowing carers to take part in this project helped them relax, allowed them to channel their frustrations and worries and brought them closer to the person they care for, as they now had a shared experience to talk about. Due to the positive feedback we received from a number of carers/relatives, all classes were opened to accommodate this new group of participants, to huge success. All classes were free to attend by clients already accessing Elders Voice services. Then, to attract other older people in the community and to manage the numbers effectively, we decided to put in place a loyalty system encouraging people to commit to long-term attendance. By doing that we encouraged participants from the community to assist us with our study. The full results are available here.

We cannot stress enough the importance of including older people socially; creating opportunities for social interaction and encouraging individuals to take part. Our observations have gone above and beyond what we expected and an example of this is Mr C, a gentleman who has an advanced stage dementia. Mr C’s speech and cognitive abilities were minimal in January 2018. To support that statement, Mr C used to stand at the front of the Yoga class with his hands held up for the duration of the session. He was unresponsive to the facilitator’s suggestion of taking a seat. His presence was accepted by the rest of the class and by no means was his freedom to interpret the Yoga in his own way limited. Only in the fourth month of delivery did Mr C begin to sit down on his own accord. He started to approach people in the group, and talk English more often than his mother tongue which is Italian. As a result of the group’s acceptance, the experience of our facilitators and giving Mr C space to express himself freely, his persona was effected in an extremely positive way. Moreover, his and his family’s quality of life improved.