Right now, more than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s, with it being the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. That means a person develops Alzheimer’s every 66 seconds and that on average it costs our nation $236 billion dollars. There are an estimated 15 million caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s. Physical therapy plays an important role in assisting caregivers to help their patients with Alzheimer's to keep moving safely and delay the progression of the disease.
In the early stages, the goal of physical therapy is to help patients with Alzheimer’s remain as independent and functional in day to day activities as possible. In addition to suffering from Alzheimer’s, patients may experience problems associated with aging such arthritis, falls and broken bones. Because of these additional problems, the goal of day-to-day functionality is broken into the following groups:
- Improve balance
- Increase muscle strength & mobility
- Pain management
- Fall prevention
The Modalities Used to Treat Problems Associated with Alzheimer’s disease
Some of the modalities utilized in physical and occupational therapy to help issues associated with Alzheimer’s disease are:
- Therapeutic Exercise: Research has shown that physical exercise and activity improves memory and helps delay the decline in ability to perform the daily activities of people who have Alzheimer's disease. The therapeutic exercise program to help people with Alzheimer’s is designed to focus on keeping people mobile and improve their balance in order to decrease their fall risk.
- Pain management: Research has shown up to 50% of people with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from regular pain. Manual therapy, cold compression therapy, hydrotherapy, and electrical stimulation are all non-invasive modalities that can be used in physical therapy to help lower the pain experienced by Alzheimer’s patients.
- Balance training: Using rocker boards, parallel bars, walking over foam rolls, etc. balance training is designed to purposely induce a loss of balance in a contained environment in order for to help the patient develop effective strategies and strength to regain and keep stable.
- Home exercise programs: In the later stages of the Alzheimer’s, physical therapists can develop home exercise programs to keep patient’s doing their daily activities for as long as possible. Additionally, pt’s can instruct caregivers how to improve safety in and out of the home.
- Adaptive Equipment: Qualified physical therapists can help patients and their caregivers learn how to use adaptive equipment and assistive devices such as special seating systems, canes, or long-handled reachers, and how to use good body mechanics not only when adaptive equipment is used but during transfers.
Alzheimer’s is a debilitating, progressive disease that is hard not only on patients, but their caregivers. Physical therapists help delay the progression of the disease and help lower issues surrounding Alzheimer’s.