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How Physical Therapy Slows the Symptoms of Dementia

Our guest, Tim Mangano discusses discuss how physical therapy slows the symptoms of dementia in this blog post.

Dementia can take much away from you and your loved ones. Physical therapy is one approach that has been proven to improve the symptoms and slow the progression of Dementia.

A physical therapist is an expert in movement who can provide 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 brain health.

How Physical Therapy Slows the Symptoms of Dementia:

Regular physical activity throughout the stages of Dementia has been shown to improve: Balance, blood flow to the brain, muscle endurance, muscle flexibility, muscle strength.

Research has shown that physical therapy can also slow the symptoms of Dementia in these ways:

1. Reduces aggression and improves mood.

Aggression and depression can be common behaviors through the progression of dementia. 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 release endorphins that soothe the brain. A study found that people with Dementia who regularly participated in physical therapy over a 24-month period had fewer hospitalizations related to behavioral problems.

2. Increases mobility and strength.

Dementia 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 6 months it was found that the participants were sleeping for an extra 36 minutes and waking less at night.

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 dementia. 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 dementia. 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 and not.

4. Slows the loss of memory.

Loss of memory is a great source of frustration for the person with dementia and their loved ones. Physical therapy involves regular physical activity that improves the flood 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 were also increases in both the gray and white matter of the brain. Damage to the gray and white matter is a common symptom of dementia.

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 dementia 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 dementia and their caregivers.

A skilled therapist can use techniques that are both simple to understand and unique. Dementia will steal much from you and your loved one, but there are therapies that can help and make each day easier to handle.

About the Author

Tim Mangano is a Physical Therapist in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.


Medical House Calls With Compassion is an organization of healthcare providers focused on providing in-house care for patients that cannot leave their homes. We bring the office to you in the belief that every individual deserves proper care and respect.

We treat patients between the ages of 18 and 114 years. Specializing in chronic conditions, we also focus on preventative care! We care for patients with dementia, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ALS, diabetes, high blood pressure, lung diseases, obesity, infections, and much more.

Learn more about us here.

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