Exercise has been proven to be beneficial for people of all ages. That goes double for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or another form of memory loss. They not only receive the numerous physical benefits, but also see improvement in motor skills, a decreased risk of falls and a lower rate of diseases that are associated with cognitive decline. This results in improved memory and behavior, better communication abilities and a variety of other benefits specifically related to the unique challenges of those with dementias.
“Physical therapy routines, when tailored and personalized to someone’s individual needs, is incredibly beneficial for people in any stage of dementia,” says Sue Sunderland, Executive Director of The Bridges at Warwick, a supportive personal care community in Jamison, PA. “Our muscles have their own sense of memory, which means that even if someone doesn’t remember exercising, they still reap all the benefits.”
As experts in memory care, The Bridges at Warwick places a high priority on exercise and optimal living for all their residents. “Our Fox Optimal Living Program, which is through our partnership with nationally renowned Fox Rehabilitation™, focuses on prevention and overall wellness through a regular regimen of exercise. Our dementia care residents benefit from more than 150 minutes of therapeutic physical activity and customized cognitive exercise each week, which results in improved strength, mobility and balance; fewer falls; fewer hospitalizations and a healthier overall lifestyle.”
Physical health and wellness programs extend to rehabilitation services in The Bridges at Warwick’s fully equipped rehabilitation center on site, also operated in partnership with Fox Rehabilitation™. Designed to help residents recover after an injury or illness, skilled therapists create and implement personalized care plans to help individuals living with dementia regain strength, build confidence and live as independently as possible.
The Benefits of Physical Therapy at Each Stage of Dementia
While there is no official research on physical therapy’s effects on individuals in the pre-diagnosis stage, experts agree that a regimen of exercise and healthy habits can help stave off or lessen the effects of dementia, especially if a regimen is started as early as possible. If you or a loved one has a family history of memory impairment or are otherwise at risk, it’s a good idea to have a healthy routine in place, no matter what age you are. It’s easier to develop healthy habits the sooner you start!
Early and Mid-Stages
The early to mid stages are when dementias are most commonly diagnosed. At this time physicians will usually recommend a regimen of physical therapy to help retain existing abilities, minimize or slow the physical and cognitive decline as much as possible and overall help the individual retain as much independence as possible.
Individuals with dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease have an increased risk of falls, medical complications and hospitalizations due to their decreasing cognitive functions, loss of strength and general stability and balance issues. During these stages, physical therapy can include a variety of activities that blend exercise and favorite hobbies, such as gardening, dancing or playing a favorite sport.
Mid to Late Stages
As memory diseases progress into the later stages, physical therapy becomes even more important in order to help the individual maintain their current abilities and slow their decline in physical and mental abilities. While therapies still include strength building and balance exercises, flexibility activities and task-specific actions are incorporated as well. These can include practicing getting up from a chair and sitting down again or walking to and from different rooms.
During these stages, physical therapists can also incorporate relief therapies such as pressure point massage to maintain skin elasticity, as well as assess and make recommendations if a resident requires an assistance device to improve their quality of life, like a walker or wheelchair.
Physical therapists who work with individuals with dementia also play an important role as an advocate for their patient as well as their families. Oftentimes they will provide education to caregivers about techniques to improve communication, strategies to reduce fall risk and improve mobility and home safety tips, among others. They also play the role of encourager and companion, since physical therapy provides individuals with dementia (and their caregivers) opportunities to socialize and build friendships. This benefits the individual by reducing their loneliness, easing depression and improving self-esteem.
Suggested Exercises for Dementia Patients
Balance is one of the first abilities that’s affected by dementias, as well as memory loss. Many physical therapies focus on exercises to improve and maintain balance, which helps improve mobility, reduce falls and build confidence. Some examples of balance exercises include:
- Balancing on one leg
- Walking heel to toe (which strengthens leg muscles)
- Performing leg raises
- The “clock exercise,” where you use your arms to mimic the hands of a clock
- Marching in place
These exercises help tone and strengthen muscles, which helps for all aspects of mobility. Some examples include:
- Core strengthening such as bridge pose, leg raises, side bends and bicycling
- Arm strengthening, such as bicep and tricep curls or using a resistance band
- Leg strengthening through squats and extensions
These exercises are full-body workouts that increase respiratory rate and heart rate. These can usually be found in group exercise classes, but can also be individual, one-on-one sessions. Here are some fun ideas:
- Yoga or tai chi
- Gardening or housework
- Bowling or golf
- Biking or hiking
Stretching helps keep seniors limber, reduces painful muscle contractions and helps prevent injury while exercises. Before and after any exercise session, be sure to stretch and loosen up the muscles before putting them through a workout. Stretching also helps improve flexibility and circulation, both of which can help improve mobility issues and overall health.
For more information about the benefits of physical therapy for seniors with dementia, contact our staff at The Bridges at Warwick.
Activity. Friendship. Support. Convenience. Value.
You’ll find it all at The Bridges at Warwick, located in beautiful Bucks County, where everyday is a celebration of seniors. Our philosophy of “Celebrating Life” means that our residents enjoy a sense of purpose and contentment along with fun, personalized care and a focus on total well-being.
Our Personalized Supportive Care provides just the right amount of assistance to help you remain independent, along with life-enriching programs, services and amenities. Our exclusive Vista Transitional Living Program offers specialized programming our supportive care residents who have memory challenges but do not yet require a secure residence. For those whose memory loss is more advanced, we offer The Vista, our secure, comprehensive memory care residence.
In keeping with our founder Robert Basile’s personal philosophy, developed during his efforts to find quality senior living for his beloved father, senior adults remain our passion. We fill our residents’ lives with countless opportunities to engage with both new and treasured friends; events and programs to enjoy with family members and loved ones; as well as innovative and creative activities that foster engagement. Our dedication to total wellness – for mind, body and spirit – is woven into our culture every day.