Physiotherapy & Dementia

Dementia is a growing concern as the aging population increases in the UK. The condition places an enormous amount of pressure on both the healthcare system and families who are faced with the many care ramifications of the debilitating condition. Physiotherapy offers a number of advantages to anybody suffering from dementia, and works in a number of ways to both treat the patient and improve quality of life.

What is dementia?

Simply put, dementia is a significant decline in cognition during aging in an individual who has no other neurological issues. The term ‘dementia’ itself is quite non-specific, and within the umbrella of dementia functions that may be impaired include memory and problem solving, with confusion being a staple symptom that worsens with age as the condition progresses. While the progression of dementia can be limited using drug, cognitive, and physical therapy, the condition is usually incurable.

Dementia can be caused by a traumatic event causing brain injury, in this instance the condition is irreversible but non-progressive as the damage is done. Examples of this kind of trauma are strokes or infections. The majority of cases of dementia however are progressive and degenerative, although the time frame for the condition can vary hugely. Alzheimer’s disease is a major cause of neurodegenerative dementia, another common cause is Huntington’s. The two diseases are very different however. Huntington’s affects a small percentage of the population and resulting from a genetic impairment passed on from one generation to the next, while Alzheimer’s disease has a complex pathogenesis that’s not fully understood and seems to involve a number of different risk factors acting to cause the disease.

Dementia and physiotherapy

Physiotherapy has been reported to have very positive effects on demented patients. Through treatment physiotherapists are hoping to slow the loss of cognitive function as evidenced by some of the literature. Regular movement, particularly following a regime recommended by a chartered physiotherapist, improves flexibility and strength.

Dementia can result in issues with spatial control and balance leading to a higher risk of falls which, amongst the elderly in particular, can lead to broken bones and dislocations. Balance and stability exercises help reduce the risk of falling.

A big issue within dementia care is the patient’s mood. Demented patients can often become agitated and distressed, becoming in some cases aggressive and depressed. Regular movement has been shown to stabilise their mood, easing depression and keeping them calm. Similarly a level of activity is beneficial in terms of improving sleep patterns which can often be disrupted by dementia. Physiotherapists will use many tools to get demented patients practicing a regular routine, these include household routines, exercises classes, and resistance training and stretching.

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