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Brain Health Awareness Month

The Surprising Benefits of Physical Therapy for Alzheimer’s Prevention

Did you know that Alzheimer's disease is one of the top ten leading causes of death in the U.S.? 

June happens to be Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. So let’s talk about it. 

While the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease is increasing age, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Though a small percentage of the population with this disease develop symptoms earlier, the majority of the population with Alzheimer's begin developing symptoms after the age of 65. 

The most widely recognized early symptom is difficulty retaining new information, but as it progresses, Alzheimer’s can disrupt a person's ability to complete everyday tasks, making them reliant on care-givers and loved ones for support. 


Prevention is Key and Critical

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. While the healthcare field is working on a cure, this makes the matter of preventative health all the more crucial. 

In fact, studies have shown that participating in regular exercise throughout your life can play a significant role in decreasing the risk of developing dementia as you age.

Aerobic exercise or “cardio” can impact age-related brain changes even in your later years. This three-year study found that individuals over the age of 70 who were physically active experienced less brain atrophy, or shrinkage of the brain, compared to those who were not. Why is this significant? Atrophy means loss of cells, and in the brain, losing cells means losing communication between different areas of the brain. This leads to changes in memory, thinking, and behavior. These changes can begin years before symptoms are even recognizable. 


How Can I Spot Alzheimer’s or Other Dementia?

Since many of these changes happen over time, The Alzheimer’s Association has developed a list of 10 Warning Signs to help you identify symptoms in yourself or a loved one:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Examples include: Forgetting important dates or events or relying too heavily on family or technology to remember things previously remembered without difficulty.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.  Examples include difficulty managing finances and paying bills or following a familiar recipe. 
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks. Examples include: Forgetting the rules to a well-known game or getting lost while driving to a frequently visited location like the grocery store.
  4. Confusion with time or place. Examples include: Losing track of the date or passage of time; losing track of where they are and how they arrived.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Examples include: Difficulty judging distance which can lead to balance issues and falls
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. Examples include: Difficulty following or joining a conversation; repeating phrases and unable to move on to the next thought; trouble finding the right name for a common item
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. Examples include: Putting things in unusual places, like placing food items in a dresser drawer, and unable to find them later; this can lead to suspicion of others as the disease progresses 
  8. Decreased or poor judgment. Examples include: Carelessness when handling or spending money, decreased attention to personal grooming and hygiene
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. Examples include: Trouble with speaking and writing can interfere with their desire to participate in leisure or group activities they previously enjoyed
  10. Changes in mood or personality. Examples include: Increased confusion, anger, depression, and anxiety are common changes seen as Alzheimer’s progresses; the person might be easily upset in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations and settings

Some changes in memory are a normal part of the aging process. We all misplace our keys occasionally or forget what day of the week it is. If these behaviors become more common, however, don’t wait to speak to your doctor. Early intervention can increase your chances of relieving symptoms and maintaining independence.  

Physical Therapy Can Help People With Alzheimer’s

Finding the appropriate exercise routine can become more challenging as we age. People with dementia and Alzheimer’s frequently struggle with balance and coordination, putting them at a greater risk for falls and subsequent injuries. Physical therapists are movement experts who can work with you and your loved ones to determine your needs and establish a program that is safe and effective. 

Research has shown that physical therapy can also help improve mood and reduce aggression, two factors that are commonly associated with the progression of Alzheimer’s. In fact, this study revealed that individuals with Alzheimer’s who participated in regular physical therapy for 3 months demonstrated improved physical health, decreased depression, and reduced rates of behavior-related hospitalization. What’s even more significant, these improvements were still noted 21 months later.  

Don’t Forget About Care-Givers and Loved Ones!

In addition to helping patients, physical therapists can help ease the burden on caregivers by educating them on how to properly assist with physical activities and providing strategies for creating a safer home environment.

Dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease can be frustrating and difficult for individuals and their loved ones. Physical therapy can help you manage some of these stresses and improve the quality of your or your loved one’s life by helping them maintain their independence as long as possible. 

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