Benefits of Rocking Chair Therapy and Dementia

Vicky Pitner   -  

My love of rocking began on the back porch of my grandmother’s Tennessee home. We didn’t have a rocking chair at my house, but the Saturday morning visits to my grandmothers introduced me to the calm of the back-and-forth motion of the wooden rocker rails gently bumping across the planks of her front porch.

After a morning of vigorous yard work, I would settle into one of the two large wooden rockers (Cracker Barrel size!).  We would have a cold RC cola, a moon pie, and listen to the birds. When I first started to rock, the ladder back chair was so oversized I needed two cushions to support my back and could only rock by shifting my weight and gently pushing with my tiptoes. I eventually grew into the rocker, and by high school, I began to really grasp the benefits and enjoyment of rocking. My grandmother swore by her daily rocks and remained independent and active until she died days before her 100th birthday.

Although the invention of rocking chairs is often associated with Benjamin Franklin, rocking chairs were actually around in the early 18th century. Parents discovered how the gentle rocking motion soothes infants as they quietly drift off to sleep, and rocking chairs began to gain popularity. However, the benefits are not just for infants. President John Kennedy’s doctor prescribed rocking to help with chronic back problems. He gained such relief, that he even took his rocking chair on Air Force One when he traveled the country and bought and gave rockers as gifts to friends and family.

So, how do persons living with dementia benefit from Rocking Chair Therapy? As far back as the 1990s, a study showed that Rocking Chair Therapy (a consistent, structured routine) improved the emotional health of the residents living with dementia in nursing homes and decreased depression and anxiety.

Two studies from the University of Rochester School of Nursing found the benefits of rocking for those living with dementia in a nursing home setting, included less behavioral disturbances, improved muscle tone, increase muscle tone, improved balance, and a reduced need for pain medication. The residents rocked for 30 minutes to 120 minutes each day, five days a week.

The most apparent outcome from the study was overall improved mood. This included a decrease in crying episodes, depression, and overall anxiety. This may be because of a decrease in pain levels or the release of endorphins due to rocking.

If you decide to implement a rocking chair workout in your home be mindful of safety measures when your loved-one is getting in and out of the chair. Considering having two rockers, and find the joy of rocking with your loved one.

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