Slow Down Alzheimer’s with Physical Therapy

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis often leads the patient and their family feeling scared, helpless, and filled with a myriad of questions. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, and 16.1 million unpaid caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. While the cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, and treatment options are limited, there are ways to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia using physical therapy.

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Research shows that, for people with Alzheimer’s, physical activity can improve memory, and regular exercise may delay both the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia, and may delay the decline in ability to perform regular daily tasks (Move Forward PT). There are several ways that physical therapy can help people with Alzheimer’s disease, and treatment goals vary depending on the stage of the disease. In the early and middle stages, the physical therapist will focus on keeping the patient mobile and able to continue their duties in their home and communities. In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, the physical therapist will shift focus to helping the patients maintain their ability to perform daily activities without the help of a caregiver (Move Forward PT). Physical therapists are also trained to treat other ailments that are often associated with aging; like arthritis and injuries from a fall (Move Forward PT).

When our physical therapists work with patients who have Alzheimer’s, we typically employ one of these methods:

  • Visual, verbal, and tactile cueing– The physical therapist enlists different cues that signal a certain activity to the patient. For example, lifting both arms can be a signal to the patient to stand up. Sometimes, 2 or 3 cueing techniques are used simultaneously.
  • Mirroring – The physical therapist will mirror the activities that the patient will perform. For example, the physical therapist will stand in front of the patient and lift their left hand when they want the patient to life their right.
  • Task breakdown – In this method, the physical therapist breaks down activities into very simple, step-by-step instructions. For example, to teach a patient how to get out of bed safely, the physical therapist will teach them how to roll on their side and press themselves up to a sitting position before stepping to the floor to stand.
  • Chaining– A follow-up to a successful task breakdown, physical therapists will employ this method when a patient is ready to take the step-by-step movements and turn them into one fluid motion.
  • Hand over hand facilitation – The physical therapist guides the patient for a certain movement by moving a particular body part through a motion for the patient.

List Source: Move Forward PT

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Treatment for the patient is not the only way a physical therapist can help with Alzheimer’s disease. There is also the option to have the physical therapist work with the family and/or caregivers. We can teach you how to safely move or lift the patient to avoid injury, how to use assistive devices, and certain exercises you can do with your loved one (Move Forward PT).

While Alzheimer’s is an incredibly difficult disease, both for the patient and their loved ones, there are ways to improve the quality of life for everyone involved with the intervention of physical therapy. If you, your loved one, or someone you know is struggling with Alzheimer’s and would like to know how the Optivus Physical Therapy team can help, schedule an appointment today!