We all know that dementia is on the rise worldwide due to our ageing population, but what role does exercise have in the care of patients with dementia?
Brain deterioration is commonly associated with dementia, and this can impact on memory, thinking, comprehension, mood and judgment. There are many different types of dementia with Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia amongst the most common. As well as affecting cognitive function, dementia can have an adverse effect on physical well-being such as mobility, balance, coordination and strength. The cumulative problems that arise from this condition not only impacts the individual suffering from dementia, but also their carers and family members. There is evidence to show that exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia and promote a delay in the progression of both cognitive and functional decline.
Physiotherapy plays an essential part in promoting and maintaining mobility for people with dementia by preventing falls, improving balance and strength, increasing fitness, and for those who are not mobile, preventing painful contractures (shortening of muscles). The majority of people suffering from dementia are usually elderly and may be at risk of other co-morbidities such as, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and diabetes. With these conditions in mind, physiotherapy-led exercise can reduce the risk of their development.
Evidence shows that good dementia care should involve creating opportunities for people to use their remaining abilities. I recently worked at Cedar Rehabilitation Unit in Stanmore, where I saw a client in the community with quite advanced vascular dementia. He had a fall and his mobility was impaired significantly resulting in him being house bound. With approximately 4 months of physiotherapy input, he began building his confidence and taking himself independently to the corner shop to have some KFC every lunch. This is a prime example that physiotherapy can help people with dementia maintain their independence by promoting physical as well as cognitive (brain) function.