Addressing Cognitive Decline With Physical Therapy

An older man receiving physical therapy services at home lifts hand weights.
Physical therapy is beneficial for more than just physical health!

You’re probably aware of at least some of the many benefits of physical therapy. After joint replacement surgery, for instance, it’s a crucial aspect of the recovery process. It helps strengthen muscles as well as balance, to boost mobility and reduce the risk of falls. But did you know it’s also beneficial for someone with cognitive decline?

The Connection Between Physical Therapy and Dementia

In addition to the physical benefits to be gained, a physical therapist can develop a program specific to someone with dementia and the particular challenges they’re facing. Physical therapy can help:

  • Improve mood. Common mood changes in dementia include aggression, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, depression, and more. Physical therapy increases the activity level of the individual, which is known to reduce these challenging emotions.
  • Slow the progression of dementia. Aerobic exercise, in particular, has been shown to slow the loss of cognitive functioning and, in some cases, actually improve processing speed, attention, memory, and executive functioning.
  • Instill confidence and boost independence. A physical therapist can help a person maintain as much autonomy as possible by practicing and strengthening daily living activities such as eating, getting dressed, and bathing.
  • Lower social anxiety. Many people with dementia, especially in the early stages, feel self-conscious, leading to limited social interactions. Physical therapy builds resilience and confidence, resulting in more willingness to participate in social activities.
  • Provide a sense of purpose and meaning. A physical therapist helps motivate individuals with cognitive decline to stretch themselves and to set and reach new goals. This instills a feeling of productivity, something that is vitally important to all of us to improve our quality of life.

What Types of Physical Activity Are Appropriate for Someone With Dementia?

The physical therapist will develop a personalized care plan, but in general, the following types of exercises are common and helpful for someone with cognitive decline:

  • Aerobic exercise: Aerobics stimulate blood flow to the brain  and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which supports memory. Exercises such as walking, biking, jogging, or using an elliptical trainer or treadmill are often recommended.
  • Resistance training: These types of exercises build muscle strength while improving balance and posture to help lower the risk of a fall. They may also trigger improvements in cognitive function, memory, selective attention, and more. The physical therapist may recommend kettlebells, dumbbells, power bands, or other types of resistance equipment.
  • Stretching: Stretching and flexibility exercises improve range of motion and balance, and have been shown to slow mild cognitive decline as effectively as aerobic exercises. Appropriate activities include yoga, tai chi, qigong, or even gardening.

We’re Here to Help!

At Patients First Home Care, our physical therapists help those with dementia and other conditions live healthier and more independent lives. Contact us at any time to learn more about our in-home physical therapy services in Brandon, Sebring, Fort Myers, Bradenton, Sarasota, Naples, Lakeland, and throughout southwest Florida.