By Heather Juen, RLMC physical therapist
Dementia affects many people in the world. Most people have either experienced it with their friends, family, or know someone in the community that has had it. It is devasting to friends and families.
Physical therapy can not cure or reverse dementia, but it can delay the development of symptoms and help with the progression of symptoms. There have been times when it does slow the progression so that people are able to live their lives normally and remain at home longer.
Physical therapy can assist with improving balance, strength, improving neuropathways and function in activities of daily living. Physical exercise has been shown to reduce depression and social anxiety as well. Dementia does affect a person’s ability to perform activities that they have performed daily, things that were once easily done without thought, are a struggle.
It is frequently observed that balance and spatial awareness are affected in the beginning stages of dementia. Physical therapy can work on balance and learning techniques to assist in adapting to changes in spatial awareness. Stiffness also is often another symptom that occurs with dementia, which makes it difficult to move through their environment. Prolonged sitting or lying in bed can make these symptoms worse.
Physical therapy can work on building strength so that the person will be able to perform tasks such as getting out of bed and standing up from a chair, walking; or work on more complicated tasks such as washing and folding laundry and making meals. A key for a person with dementia is doing repetitive tasks and doing activities of daily living in the same order each day, everyday, so that it becomes a habit. This can make it easier to remember tasks as the dementia progresses. Tasks that people are used to doing in a certain order tend to be remembered further into the progression of dementia The more a person practices these tasks and exercises the longer they can live safely and independently.
As dementia progresses it takes longer to perform tasks such as walking, brushing teeth, making a bed, making a sandwich. etc. It takes longer to process what to do and the order of how to perform these tasks. It is important to let people with dementia to try to figure out how to do what they were doing, without stepping in and attempting to correct them or do it for them. The more that they can do by themselves, the better it is for their brain, self-esteem, and dignity.