How Can Physiotherapy Help Manage Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a chronic neurodegenerative and progressive disorder that causes brain cells to waste away and eventually die, leading to a decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that disrupt a person’s ability to function independently. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia which starts and develops insidiously, with typical primary warning signs and symptoms like;

  • Memory changes that disrupt daily life.
  • Difficulty making decisions, especially in planning or solving problems.
  • Psychiatric symptoms and behavioral disturbances
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
  • Confusion about time place and person
  • Trouble understanding visual images or the way things fit together (spatial relationships).
  • Finding the right words to say when speaking or writing.
  • Misplacing items and losing the ability to retrace your steps.
  • Poor or decreased judgment about safety.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities.
  • Changes in mood or personality.

In the later stages of the disease patient get restless and wander. They are also likely to withdraw from their family and friends or see or hear things that are not there. They may falsely believe that others are lying, cheating, or trying to harm them. As the disease progresses, a person with Alzheimer’s disease will develop severe memory impairment and lose the ability to carry out activities of daily living.

Risk Factors

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia, which brings huge economic burden for patients and social health care systems.  There are modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, these include;

Non-modifiable Risk Factors

  • Advancing age 65 years and above
  • First degree family history
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Presence of the apolipoprotein E-ɛ4 (APOE- ɛ 4) genetic variant
  • Traumatic brain injury and head trauma.

Modifiable Risk Factors

  • Physical inactivity
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol

Any of the above-mentioned modifiable risk factors, may increase the risk of developing AD. Factors such as social engagement, low saturated fat and high vegetable diets may reduce the risk of developing AD.

Role of Physiotherapy

Studies have shown that physical activity and exercise may significantly decrease age-related risks for AD, and indeed mitigate the impact in existing diagnosis. Physiotherapists are movement experts who design exercise programs for people with a variety of health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. They can play a key role in preventing decline.

Regular exercises throughout the stages of Alzheimer’s has been shown to improve:

  • Balance
  • Blood flow to the brain
  • Endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Muscle strength

Studies has also shown that physiotherapy can slow the symptoms of Alzheimer’s by;

  • Decreases aggression and improves mood

Aggression and depression are common traits throughout the progression of Alzheimer’s. A physiotherapist will help people living with Alzheimer’s to be active, as regular activity help improve mood and reduced aggression.

  • Increases mobility and strength.

Alzheimer’s disease often affects balance and can lead to a high risk for falls. Consistent physiotherapy helps keep bones and muscles strong as balance and coordination declines.

  • Slows the loss of memory.

Loss of memory is a great source of frustration for the person with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones. Physiotherapy involves regular physical activity that improves the flood of blood to the brain.

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