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4 Ways Physical Therapy Slows the Symptoms of Alzheimer's

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
8 minute readLast updated April 20, 2023

While the decline that comes with Alzheimer’s disease is inevitable, you can take steps to slow the decline. Physical therapy is one approach that has been shown to improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s, as well as slow the progression of the disease. A physical therapist is an expert in movement and can help set up an exercise program that keeps your parent or senior loved one moving. Research continues to show that physical activity is one of the strongest ways to improve your parent’s brain health. Read more about how physical therapy can help slow the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

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How physical therapy slows the symptoms of Alzheimer’s

Regular physical activity throughout the stages of Alzheimer’s has been shown to improve:
  • Balance
  • Blood flow to the brain
  • Endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Muscle strength
Research has shown that physical therapy can also slow the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in these four ways:

1. Decreases aggression and improves mood

Aggression and depression can be common traits throughout the progression of Alzheimer’s. A physical therapist will help your parent or senior loved one to be active. Regular activity has been repeatedly shown to improve mood and reduce aggression.
One study found that an hour of therapy each week for 12 weeks drastically reduced depression. The therapy focused on balance, endurance, flexibility and strength training.
Physical therapy also helps to stabilize aggression through regular exercise. The therapist assists your loved one with active movement and stretches that releases endorphins that soothe the brain. A study found that people with Alzheimer’s who regularly participated in physical therapy over a 24-month period had fewer hospitalizations related to behavioral problems.

2. Increases mobility and strength

Alzheimer’s disease often affects balance and can lead to a high risk for falls. Regular physical therapy helps to keep bones and muscles strong as coordination declines.
You might notice that although your loved one is able to walk that they have an unsteady step. The physical therapist will work with your loved one to build muscle memory to help with preventing falls. The muscles continue to know how to respond even when the brain is not able to register unstable surfaces.
An added bonus of regular physical therapy is improved sleep. One study matched participants with therapists who assisted them to walk for 30 continuous minutes. After six months it was found that the participants were sleeping for an extra 36 minutes and waking less at night.

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3. Maintain independence through activities of daily living (ADLs)

Being able to take care of yourself is an important way to be independent. Daily activities like bathing, dressing, eating, and toileting can become difficult with Alzheimer’s. A physical therapist will provide opportunities to practice and strengthen the ability to keep doing the daily activities.
A physical therapist can also help family members set up a safe environment for the person with Alzheimer’s. It is a typical goal to be able to maintain the loved one’s function and independence as long as possible.
Physical therapy can make the difference between getting up off the toilet or not.

4. Slows the loss of memory

Loss of memory is a great source of frustration for the person with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones. Physical therapy involves regular physical activity that improves the flow of blood to the brain.
A research study found that 40 minutes of physical activity, four times a week over one year lead to growth in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory. There was also shown to be increases in both the gray and white matter of the brain. Damage to the gray and white matter is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s.

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A physical therapist can help you to find the activities that your loved one previously enjoyed and help to adapt the activity to what your loved one can do now. These activities can keep your loved one at home and able to interact longer.
Jan Bays, a physical therapist, is quoted on the American Physical Therapist Association website as saying that there are three things you need to know about Alzheimer’s and physical therapy.
  • People with dementia will benefit from therapy.
  • Therapy is often covered by Medicare.
  • You will want to find a therapist that understands people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
A skilled therapist can use techniques that are both simple to understand and unique. Alzheimer’s will change your parent’s daily life, but there are therapies that can help and make each day easier to handle.
A physical therapist can be part of your team and help to slow down the symptoms of Alzheimer’s so that you can better enjoy each day you have.


Meet the Author
OurParents Staff

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