How Can Therapy Help Those With Dementia?
The majority of dementia cases are due to Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease affecting brain cell quality and ability to communicate.
Throughout the stages of the disease, trained therapists can help maintain patient safety and quality of life as well as reduce burden on caregivers. Although improvement in cognition may not be possible, improvements in function can occur from physical improvements, compensation and adaptation.
Speech therapy can assist cognitive and communication disorders. This includes difficulty with memory, selecting appropriate words, remembering names, and improving attention. They can help patients that have socially inappropriate behavior, those that have difficulty managing emotions related to performance difficulties, or when having limited social behaviors and eye contact. Speech therapists can also assist with understanding consequences of actions and following directions.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, swallowing can become unsafe and speech therapists can address swallow quality and appropriate diet.
Occupational therapists are skilled in assessing environments to support function while promoting a person’s strengths and abilities. Occupational therapy can help maximize safety and assist with daily tasks that are sometimes difficult such as bathing, toileting, dressing and eating. As the disease progresses and mobility declines, occupational therapists can also assess the patient for equipment needs such as a wheelchair to allow for safe mobility for both the patient and the caregiver.
Both occupational and physical therapists provide exercise intervention for those with Alzheimer’s. Studies have shown that exercise seems to slow brain atrophy, especially in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain initially affected by Alzheimer’s disease and influences memory, spatial navigation and learning.
Another study showed that people with dementia who exercised regularly were better able to feed, dress and bathe themselves.
Occupational and physical therapy can help decrease fall risk. This is important as people with cognitive impairments fall more often due to decreased judgement and spatial control. Exercise has also been shown to improve mood and decrease depression and agitation which can also occur with Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleep is also affected with dementia and can be improved with exercise.
Lastly, one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy is with good blood flow, which can be improved with exercise.
Lutheran SeniorLife therapists are available at Passavant Community, St. John Specialty Care Center and Center at the Mall. Please visit our website for contact information at www.lutheranseniorlife.org.