Movement and exercise for people with dementia

What are the two worst words in dementia care?
Answer: ‘Sit down!’

Frequently people with dementia who are walking around are asked to sit down, yet when a person is moving they are often expressing a need that should be met rather than dismissed.

Dance can even be incorporated into daily living tasks – try doing a dance with a person while walking into the dining room or the toilet!

You don’t have to take part in a class or go to the gym to benefit from physical exercise. For some people with dementia, it is the little things in life that can make a difference, for example:

Whether you are supporting someone in their own home or in a care home, you can encourage movement through all aspects of daily living.

Getting out and about

It is not unusual for people who have dementia in care settings to have less access to outside space, particularly as they become less mobile and more advanced in their illness. Yet going outside can stimulate the brain and improve the mood in a way that inside activities cannot.

Access to fresh air doesn’t have to involve long coach trips to the seaside. Posting a letter, feeding the birds or sitting by a window watching the sun setting can all bring light and pleasure to the day (see the ‘Gardens’ feature in the ‘Dementia-friendly environments’ section).

Dancing our way to wellbeing

Dance stimulates the brain and the body as well as tapping into the magic of music. It has lots of social elements as well as offering an opportunity for people to express themselves and most importantly to move.

You don’t have to be mobile on your feet to dance – there are a number of approaches where people can dance with their arms and feet while still seated.

Dance can even be incorporated into daily living tasks – try doing a dance with a person while walking into the dining room or the toilet!

Jabadao, a dance and movement organisation based in Leeds, offers inspiring training in this area with a range of colourful props such as parachutes, carnival sticks and so on to encourage fun and movement.

Green Candle Dance Company is another organisation with a history of working with older people and people with dementia.

Circle dancing offers simple and repetitive dance movements in a supportive circle combined with great rhythmic music from all parts of the world, where the emphasis is on being together and enjoying ourselves rather than getting all the steps right! It is also a helpful approach for responding to the cultural diversity of service users and staff and enjoying stories and connections that can be shared.

Organised exercise sessions

A physiotherapist or a suitably trained fitness professional can help to devise exercise programmes for an individual or run regular group exercise programmes. Seated exercise sessions can sometimes be run by care staff if they have been given training particularly in relation to any health contra-indications to be aware of.

There are a number of organisations offering training in this area including:

ReVitalyz, Extend and Medau.


All SCIE resources are free to download, however to access the following downloads you will need a free MySCIE account:

Available downloads:

  • Activity: Movement and exercise
  • What the research says: Keeping active and occupied