Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating condition that robs people of their ability to think, remember and function without assistance. It’s equally devastating to the patient’s family who mourn the loss of their once vivacious and active loved one.
The disease is the most common form of cognitive disabilities that come under the category of dementia and is responsible for 60-80 percent of all dementia cases. Symptoms appear slowly and worsen over time, but typically begin years before a diagnosis is made, leading many to mistakenly believe it’s an “old people’s” disease.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s are often ignored as part of getting older. Individuals begin to forget, have difficulty remembering, and may occasionally become confused. They experience changes in the way their mind works, but it isn’t obvious to them. They’re afraid and reluctant to even broach the subject for fear of discovering they might actually have the disease.
Alzheimer’s affects the part of the brain that’s responsible for learning and remembering new information. As the disease progresses, individuals have increasingly severe symptoms. They may become suspicious of family, friends and caregivers. Symptoms include mood and behavioral changes, along with difficulty speaking, walking and even swallowing.
There’s currently no way to prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s, but there are ways to slow the worsening of symptoms and remain physically healthy and physical therapy can play a major role. Microscopic changes take place in the brain long before Alzheimer’s is diagnosed. Plaques and tangles form in the brain, damaging cells and the nerves that transmit impulses and directions to the rest of the body. Physical therapy can help by:
- Maintaining mobility
- Keeping bones and muscles healthy
- Mitigating the risk of heart disease and associated conditions
- Maintaining proper nutrition
- Building core strength, balance and coordination
- Reducing the risk of falls and injuries
Complications of Alzheimer’s disease include heart attack, strokes, infections and kidney disease. Those who die from Alzheimer’s typically have multiple organ failure. Individuals with the disease misplace things and repeat questions/statements over and over since they don’t remember they’ve already asked the same question. Patients have difficulty finding the correct words to express thoughts or identify objects.
Individuals eventually become a danger to themselves and others. They can’t effectively respond to emergencies and deal with everyday problems. Judgement and the decision making process becomes severely impaired. Delusional behavior, wandering, depression and apathy, and social withdrawal are all common. Skills learned early in life are the last to be lost.
Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and it’s believed to be the result of factors that include genetics, lifestyle choices and environmental components. Smoking, poor diet, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, obesity and sedentary lifestyles may increase the risk.
Your physical therapist will be focused on improving quality of life for you or a loved one and maintaining functionality as long as possible. He/she can develop a specialized exercise program to reduce the risk of falls, improve balance and enhance coordination. Exercise is beneficial for strengthening bones to mitigate the risk of fractures, reducing cholesterol, and lowering blood pressure.
If you aren’t able to fully participate in an exercise plan, hands-one mobilization can provide the movement needed to maintain flexibility and mobility. Exercises ranging from clinical Pilates and yoga to stationary bikes may be employed, along with electro-stimulation and hydrotherapy depending upon your ability. Adaptive and ergonomic recommendations are available to help you get the rest you need, perform everyday tasks, and establish routines that aid in the ability to retain information.
Nutrition is a prime consideration for Alzheimer’s patients, who often forget to eat or stay hydrated, lose interest in cooking, or may not make an effort to eat a balanced diet. Your physical therapist can provide recommendations for specific foods and dietary and nutritional supplements that offer convenience and the essential nutrients needed.
Alzheimer’s patients may not be able to communicate effectively, but they often enjoy looking at old photos, listening to music and being read to. Your physical therapist can provide suggestions for connecting with a loved one that’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
There’s no cure or preventative for Alzheimer’s disease, but your physical therapist can improve the ability to function, remain physically healthy and stay mobile. Your physical therapist will help you or your loved one maintain quality of life at every stage of the disease.