How Physical Therapy Can Help Alzheimer’s


Physical therapy might not be your first thought after an Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis, but research shows that with the right therapy, patients can see improved memory, delay the onset of dementia, and delay the decline in ability to perform daily tasks.

In the very early stages of Alzheimer’s, the physical therapists are mainly focused on keeping patients mobile and help them continue conducting their daily tasks in their home and communities. In the later stages, they strive to help patients to keep doing their daily activities for as long as they can, which can help family members and caregivers.

Physical therapists can help instruct the family and caregivers on how to provide a safe living environment and successfully manage the needs of their loved ones. The hope is to improve the quality of life and delay the need for consistent care in a facility.

The therapists will use several techniques to help patients:

  • Visual, verbal, and tactile cueing – The therapist teaches the patient and provides cues, like pointing to objects or gesturing. For example, lifting up both arms signals the person to stand up. Cues can also be given verbally with one-step instruction. Tactile clues help as well,  like holding someone’s hand to have them walk with you. Sometimes, 2 or 3 cues are used simultaneously.
  • Mirroring – The physical therapist will act as a mirror, standing in front of the patient to show them how to move. If they raise their left arm, the patient would raise their right arm.
  • Task breakdown – Therapists are trained to break down tasks into simple, little pieces that the patient can complete separately. For example, if they want to teach a person to safely move from lying down to sitting up, they might have the person rolling to the side, then pushing up, then swinging legs over to the side.
  • Chaining– The physical therapist provides step-by-step instructions by linking one step to the next step in a more complex movement pattern. This specific technique is used once a task has been broken down successfully and unites the separate steps into one fluid movement.
  • Hand over hand facilitation – The physical therapist takes the hand or other part of the body of the person who needs to move or complete a certain task and moves that body part through the motion.