Families Should Be Encouraged to Place Newly-Diagnosed Dementia Patients in Physical Therapy
When a family learns that their loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, it is common to feel afraid, confused, emotionally distraught, and even angry. The diagnosis typically comes after an extensive evaluation by a neurologist, physician, or even a team of medical professionals. This evaluation typically involves a comprehensive review of the individual’s medical history, psychiatric history, a wide array of labs, an examination that tests the person’s mental status, the individual’s ability to engage in activities of daily living, scans of the brain, and possibly even psychological assessments.
Unfortunately, the evaluation does not include any information from a physical therapist. This is not at all uncommon. However, Physical Therapy for Dementia can help and the family should be encouraged to pursue it for their newly-diagnosed loved one as quickly as possible.
The Early Stages
In the early stages of dementia, families may not observe physical complications in the newly-diagnosed dementia patient; however, as the individual transitions from one stage of the illness to another, these complications will become more prevalent.
In the early stages, physical therapy is a rehabilitative service that places an emphasis on improving balance, increasing the strength of the muscles, optimizing the patient’s range of mobility, and helping in areas related to the successful management of pain. Dementia patients are at a high risk for falls, balance deficits, and weakness in the muscles -even as a newly-diagnosed patient.
Families commonly turn to neurologists and similar medical professionals, but more education has to be provided concerning physical therapy as this is what will truly matter as the dementia patient progresses in their disease.
The next reason that families should be encouraged to sign their loved one up with physical therapy services in the earliest stage of their disease is because PTs can be of great assistance in terms of environmental assistance; that is, helping families change and enhance the patient’s living area so that they are able to remain as functional and independent for as long as possible.
Additionally, these services aid in ensuring the overall safety of the dementia patient. Environmental assistance modifications that may be done by physical therapists include adding signage to the living area, moving obstacles, lowering beds and other furniture, and adding cushioning to sharp edges, doors, counters, and other regions in the home that may become a danger to the patient.
As a dementia patient transitions into the later stages of their illness, it will become increasingly important for them to have strength, balance, and effective coordination. Lack of any of these elements may result in the patient becoming unable to walk, unable to move comfortably, unable to feed themselves, and an extreme decline in general comfort level.
As a physical therapist, it is your job to encourage families to sign their loved one up for your services once they have been diagnosed with dementia. Not only can your services and assistance keep the individual safer for longer, it can help prolong their life and optimize the quality of their life.