Physical therapy can improve balance and reduce falls risk for older adults. Regular exercise can reduce cognitive decline. A new study answers the question: Does physical therapy benefit older adults with dementia?
The study was published in January 2020 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. In it, researchers looked at data for 1,477 people with a primary diagnosis of dementia. All patients were older than 65 years. Researchers compared outcomes for patients who received physical therapy versus those who did not. Patients who received physical therapy had at least one home visit by a physical therapist. Most people received four visits by a PT.
Researchers compared two outcomes — improvement versus no change/decline — using the activity of daily living score. The study examined scores from the start of at-home physical therapy to discharge. Any visit with a PT increased the chance of improved daily function by 15.2% over those who had no physical therapy. When patients had six to 13 visits with a PT, the likelihood of improvement increased by 11.6% than for patients who had one to five visits.
Dementia is the leading cause of disability in people over 65 years. It can lead to a decline in a person's ability to do daily functions. Activities like dressing, toileting, getting out of bed, walking, meal prep, and eating can be limited. People with dementia may experience problems with memory, language, decision-making, and coordination. Dementia also can cause mood changes, irritability, and depression. These can lead to a lack of well-being and reduced quality of life for the patient and their caregivers.
Researchers suggest that people with dementia should be evaluated by a PT. PTs are movement experts who improve quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education. PTs treat people of all ages and abilities and help them to take an active part in their own care.
Visit Find A PT to find a physical therapist near you.
Access additional Did You Know pages.
Reviewed by Cherie LeDoux, PT, DPT, and Jennifer Elaine Stevens-Lapsley, PT, MPT, PhD.