Dementia is a condition that cannot be reversed and cannot be cured; however, there are treatments available that aid in slowing symptoms and increase the amount of time a sufferer may live as normally as possible. One of the most effective treatments for Alzheimer’s and Dementia is physical therapy. If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia, take a moment and read this article. Here, we will expound on how physical therapy helps those with dementia.

Physical Therapy for Older Patients with Dementia

The Physical Impact of Dementia on the Body

While it is true that the most common dementia symptoms include the loss of cognitive skills, memory complications, issues with communication, and memory loss, dementia also results in physical symptoms. To understand the effectiveness of physical therapy for dementia patients, you must understand the physical impact of the condition on the body. As the disease progresses, this impact becomes increasingly significant. The following outlines the issues that will typically develop the longer that an individual has dementia:

  1. Movement Impairments – As dementia progresses, it changes the way that the patient engages in the activity of walking. The steps become shorter and the individual may start to drift to the side. Eventually, the individual will walk slower and will start dragging their feet as they walk. This increases the risk that a fall will occur.
  2. Problems with Balance – Spatial awareness is negatively impacted in dementia patients. Through the progression of the condition, the patient will start to have problems judging distances. This could then result in the risk of falling, bumping into things, and tripping.
  3. Increased Levels of Stiffness – Muscular problems develop in those with dementia. The muscles in the body will start to become exceptionally rigid. This is more evident when the patient has been sitting or lying down for extended amounts of time. This results in problems moving.
  4. Problems with Chewing and Swallowing – Dementia patients – eventually – will start to have issues with chewing and swallowing. As a result of this, they may cough and even choke. This could result of the inhalation of the materials in the mouth and throat to be inhaled directly into the lungs. In turn, this could cause potentially deadly respiratory issues.
  5. Weight Loss – Many dementia patients experience unintentional weight loss. This is due to a reduction in appetite, problems making food, and issues with chewing and struggling. This increases the risk of the patient becoming frail and even malnourished.

How Do PTs Help Dementia Patients?

There are many ways that PTs help dementia patients. First and foremost, they encourage engaging in physical activities and exercises. This is considered the ideal method of addressing symptoms without the use of potentially harmful prescription medications.

The physical therapist will evaluate the patient and determine if they struggle with activities of daily living. If so, an exercise regimen will be created and administered to help them overcome those struggles.

Physical therapists help dementia patients maintain their mobility, remain safe, and maintain their level of independence for as long as possible.

Many different types of activities may be prescribed. These include aerobic sessions, dance, stretches, and even seated activities that are designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles while improving general levels of flexibility.

From the earliest stages of the condition to the advanced stages of dementia, physical therapists will help the patient continue to live their life and their daily activities for longer.

As the patient goes through the deterioration of dementia, the therapist will shift the focus of the treatment to the practice of activities that are simple and are task-specific, such as getting out of bed easily or even steps on standing up from the seated position.

All the way through the duration of the patient’s life, the physical therapist will work to ensure that falls are prevented. Just the simplest of falls could prove to be life threatening. The therapist will instruct the patient on how to exercise and when to perform those exercises.

When working with a PT, you should choose one with experience working with older adults and specialize in conditions that are neurodegenerative in nature. They will know what physiotherapeutic activities are best for your loved one.

The Physical Benefits of Physical Therapy

The following outlines the physical benefits that a dementia patient will experience when they work with a physical therapist:

  1. Improved Sleep – Dementia patients often suffer from disturbances with the sleep cycle. Physical therapists will work the patient so that they are able to experience a more restful sleep at night and that the times in which they wake are reduced.
  2. Improved Gait and Balance – There are typically always issues with a person’s gait and balance when they have dementia. Physical therapy helps improve both of these components by providing training on how to successfully regain balance when it is detrimentally affected.
  3. Reduced Stiffness in Muscles – Muscle stiffness and problems moving are common with dementia. Pains, cramps, and other types of discomfort are also common. The activities provided by a physical therapist will provide relief to muscles and will strengthen them, which will help in reducing stiffness.
  4. Improved Cardiovascular Health – If a dementia patient starts physical therapy early, there will be improvements with their cardiovascular health – such as lower blood pressure, improved circulation, and the ability to walk faster.

Cognitive and Emotional Benefits of Physical Therapy

In addition to physical benefits of physical therapy for dementia patients, there are both cognitive and emotional benefits, too. By working with a therapist, the patient will gain confidence. The aggression that occurs with the illness will be reduced, and disease will progress more slowly and the quality of life of the patient will be almost instantly improved. In addition to this, the following will occur:

  1. The cognitive functioning of the patient and the memory loss experienced by the patient will slow down tremendously. The patient’s attention span and the speed in which they process information will be improved. The memory and the patient’s executive functioning will also be improved. It is believed that the improved circulation that stems from completing physical therapy activities is what contributes to these benefits.
  2. The patient’s mood will start to improve and their level of aggression will decrease. The PT activities help in reducing anxiety and the need of using prescription medication.
  3. The patient’s general quality of life will be improved. Cognitive dysfunction causes patients to lose their motivation. They feel unproductive and useless. If patients have routine activities to perform, they start to feel more motivated and like they have something to live for.
  4. It is a known fact that dementia results in loss of independence, over time. By actively engaging in a physical therapy program, the patient will be able to maintain their level of independence for longer.

We Can Help

If you have a loved one with dementia, it may be in their best interest to have them engage in physical therapy. We here at Back to Motion Physical Therapy specialize in the care of all types of patients – including those with dementia. We offer standard physical therapy and other services such as balance training, strength training, vestibular training, the antigravity treadmill, and more. You do not need a referral to obtain physical therapy services for your loved one in the State of Colorado. Contact us today to get your loved one started on life-changing activities that will slow the progression of dementia: 303-832-5577

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