Physical Therapist's Guide to Alzheimer's Disease - Part One - Fort Lee Physical Therapy - Fort Lee, NJ
Hyun J. (June) Park,  PT, DPT, CIDN

Hyun J. (June) Park, PT, DPT, CIDN

Dr Hyun Park graduated from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. She is certified in dry needling by the Integrative Dry Needling Institute and a member of the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association).

Physical Therapist’s Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease – Part One

I am sure that most of you know that Alzheimer's disease is a progressive condition that damages brain cells and affects our speech, thought, and how we interact with other people. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, which is part of a group of brain disorders that affect memory and the ability to perform daily activities.

Recently I have been writing a lot of blogs that talk about different physical injuries and how physical therapy can help – which got me thinking that a lot of people don’t know that physical therapy can also help with different degenerative diseases, one of which is Alzeimer’s Disease.

So as usual I am going to focus part one on explaining what Alzeimer’s Disease is, just so that we are on the same page, and then in part two I will talk about how physical therapy can help those who suffer from it.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

I am sure that most of you know that Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition that damages brain cells and affects our speech, thought, and how we interact with other people. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, which is part of a group of brain disorders that affect memory and the ability to perform daily activities.

The risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease increases with age, and it is very rare that anyone gets it before the age of 60. It’s also important to know that you are at a higher risk for getting Alzheimer’s if you have a relative that has suffered from – or is suffering from – it.
Signs and Symptoms

The most common symptom that people recognize when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease is confusion, but there are several other symptoms that you should be aware of – which may be reversible if caught early enough.

There are some warning signs of Alzheimer’s to keep in mind:
– Memory changes that disrupt day to day life
– Difficulty making decisions
– Difficulty planning
– Difficulty solving problems
– Difficulty completing familiar tasks
– Confusion about time and place
– Trouble understanding visual images
– Finding the right words to say when speaking
– Trouble writing
– Misplacing items more frequently than normal
– Losing the ability to retrace your steps

In the later stages of the disease – along with the above “cognitive” symptoms, people with Alzheimer’s disease can also develop difficulty performing what were once simple tasks of day to day life. This means that eventually they will need assistance with feeding, bathing, toileting, and dressing. The ability to walk is usually retained until the very last stage of the disease but due to confusion and safety concerns people with Alzheimer’s could need supervision – or an assistive device – to help them get around safely.

How Is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?

Since the cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown making a diagnosis can be difficult. However, researchers are getting closer to making a diagnosis by using brain imaging studies such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, or an ultrasound. These tests can show abnormalities in the structure of the brain or how it functions. Other test like mental function tests, cerebrospinal fluid tap, biomarkers, and genetic testing also can be used to help make a diagnosis – but a definitive diagnosis can be made only on autopsy.

Now that you know more about Alzheimer’s disease you can be proactive when it comes to your family and friends. I will leave you with the following words of advice for this week

– If confusion comes on suddenly, schedule a visit with a physician or a neurologist immediately.
– If confusion occurs or gets worse after a fall or a head injury, immediately call 911 or emergency medical services (EMS) so that an ambulance can be sent.

Please make sure that you stay tuned for part two of this series, which I will be posting later this week, so you can learn how visiting a physical therapist can help.

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