As dementia affects an individual’s physical activity beliefs and behaviours, focusing on this can be a useful way to introduce the topic


Ask permission

Ask permission to talk about either ‘physical activity’ or ‘something that can make a big difference to your future health and wellbeing’.

Spending a moment to set the scene and asking permission can open a constructive person-centred conversation around behaviour change. This keeps the individual actively engaged in the conversation and decision making.


Assess impact

How has their disease affected their physical activity levels and the things they enjoy?

Supporting behaviour change is hard work! This resource is designed to help you navigate this challenging task.

Most people are ambivalent about, rather than resistant to, increasing their physical activity levels. There are pros and cons to both maintaining the same physical activity levels as well as increasing them. Your challenge is to help an individual to consider and share their own ‘pros’ for increasing their physical activity levels and help them to develop these ideas into a workable plan that fits into their life.

Try to understand the individuals own perspective, agenda and priorities and do not assume they:[1]

  1. ought to change
  2. want to change
  3. are primarily motivated by their health
  4. either ARE or ARE NOT motivated to increase their activity levels
  5. will respond well to a tough approach from you
  6. must (or will) follow your advice

Learning skills such as motivational interviewing can help you avoid common pitfalls that sometimes make conversations about behaviour change unrewarding and ineffective.


  1. Mason P, Rollnick S. Health behaviour change : a guide for practitioners. 2nd ed. /. London: : Churchill Livingstone 2010.

Review activity

Physical activity calculator

The physical activity ‘vital sign’ is a simple way of assessing an individual’s physical activity level. It has been validated in a cohort of 1.73 million people in the USA against self report survey data[1,2] and is in use worldwide[3]. It serves as a screening tool for clinical staff to inform brief consultations in physical activity as per NICE recommendations[4]. As this tool does not assess strength and balance these should be asked about separately.


  1. Sallis R, Franklin B, Joy L, et al.Strategies for promoting physical activity in clinical practice. Prog Cardiovasc Dis2015;57:375–86. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2014.10.003
  2. Coleman KJ, Ngor E, Reynolds K, et al.Initial Validation of an Exercise ‘Vital Sign’ in Electronic Medical Records. Med Sci Sport Exerc2012;44:2071–6. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182630ec1
  3. Golightly YM, Allen KD, Ambrose KR, et al.Physical Activity as a Vital Sign: A Systematic Review. Prev Chronic Dis2017;14:E123. doi:10.5888/pcd14.170030
  4. NICE. Physical activity: brief advice for adults in primary care primary care. Natl Inst Heal care Excell Public Heal Guidel 442013;






Explore benefits

What do they know about the benefits of physical activity in people with dementia?

As an individual is more likely to change if they can personally identify with the ‘pros’ for change, help them to identify how they might benefit from being more active. Find out what they know first so that you can add to their existing understanding by sharing some of the wide-ranging benefits of being more active.

Q1 On average, how many days each week do you do moderate or greater physical activity (like a brisk walk) ?


Q2 On those days, on average how many minutes do you do this physical activity for?


Inactive. Only small increases in physical activity across the week can have large health benefits.

Insufficiently active. A good start, but there is still a lot to be gained by increasing physical activity levels.

Active. Well done. Maintaining this level of activity is really important.

Explain that just 30 minutes physical activity in one week can make a huge difference to their health.

Lower: 0.77
Relative Risk
Higher: 1
Minutes Per Week

Did you know?

"I never exercised in the past, I didn’t know what the right way to exercise was"

Iversen MD, Scanlon L, Frits M, et al. Perceptions of physical activity engagement among adults with rheumatoid arthritis and rheumatologists. Int J Clin Rheumtol 2015;10:67–77. doi:10.2217/ijr.15.3

“Staying physically active and mentally engaged appears to reduce the risk of dementia”

“Research shows that if you engage in regular physical activity, you decrease your risk of Alzheimer's disease”

”Keep your loved ones engaged and both cognitively and physically active “