Caregivers, Health

Physical Therapy and Exercise Can Benefit Those With Dementia

Photo courtesy of Angela Hammond.

Physical movement and exercise is beneficial for everyone, and it’s no different for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.  As the disease progresses, individuals living with dementia are losing cognitive skills which affects how they talk and walk. Vision can also become impaired as part of the disease.  Spatial awareness is compromised and they may start bumping into furniture, tripping as they navigate patterns on the floor, and overall, becoming an increased fall risk.  A natural tendency is to reduce the risk of falling, so the individual may start moving slower or not wanting to move at all.  Reducing fall risks is a must!  But how do we help them also stay active?

Sommer Smith, Owner of ReGen PT in Gardendale, says safety is the name of the game for Individuals living with dementia!  Sommer is a physical therapist and shared how the benefits of physical therapy can help an individual with dementia maintain independence for as long as possible.  This may not mean living independently in their own home, but it can mean staying mobile longer by getting in and out of cars, sitting and standing for toileting, bathing and dressing themselves, and other activities of daily living that become more burdensome with disease progression.

Although disease progression can’t be stopped, physical therapy helps improve balance and gait, making physical tasks easier and safer for our Loved Ones.  It helps relieve pain and strengthen stiff muscles.  And it can make us happier, physical movement releases endorphins, the chemical in our bodies that helps reduce pain and relieve stress!

When should you talk with your Family Physician about a referral for physical therapy for your Loved One with a form of dementia?  Sommer recommends having the discussion after a fall, or when there’s increased risk for falls or when the inability to follow directions is creating an unsafe environment.

Angela Hammond is owner and Director of The Day Place, located in Gardendale, and a contributor to Gardendale Health.