The Benefits of Physical Therapy for Your Loved One With Dementia

The Role of Physical Therapy for Individuals With Dementia


As dementia gets worse over time, your loved one might find it hard to keep their balance and move around, which makes them more prone to falls and injuries. They may also experience sleep disturbances, decline in cognitive ability, and heart problems.

While there is no known cure for dementia, physical therapy can help manage the development of the more physically expressed symptoms. Let’s explore some of the benefits of physical therapy for individuals with dementia.

How Physical Therapy Can Ease Dementia Symptoms

Physical therapy serves as an essential component of dementia care, enhancing the overall quality of life of your senior loved one. Here’s how it can be invaluable in improving dementia symptoms.

Improve Balance and Gait

As cognitive function declines, so too does physical coordination, leading to an increased risk of falls and injuries. However, by addressing these issues, physical therapy can improve the quality of life for your loved one with dementia.

Physical therapists use a combination of targeted exercises and rehabilitation techniques to maintain balance and mobility. Simple exercises such as leg lifts or heel raises can strengthen the muscles needed for walking and balance.

Specific balance exercises, such as standing on one leg, can help your loved one better control their movement. Physical therapists may also use gait retraining, treadmill training, or walking aids to enhance mobility and coordination.

Reduce the Risk of Falls

Individuals living with dementia are at an increased risk of falls, which can lead to serious injuries and a decline in overall health. Physical therapists develop personalized treatment plans tailored to address the specific underlying factors contributing to the individual’s risk of falls. These interventions may include:

  • Specific exercises that target core strength, lower body stability, and proprioception.
  • Gait training exercises to help them develop a steady and coordinated gait.
  • Functional mobility tasks, such as sit-to-stand transfers or navigating obstacles, to help them develop the skills needed to navigate daily activities.


Physical therapy can be a valuable intervention that mitigates the likelihood of stumbling or tripping and promotes the safety and well-being of your senior loved one.

Strengthen Stiff Muscles

Individuals with dementia often experience muscle stiffness and weakness, which can significantly impact their mobility and daily functioning. These muscular problems may arise due to dementia-related factors, such as changes in brain function, decreased physical activity, or alterations in muscle tone regulation.

Prolonged periods of inactivity, such as sitting down or sleeping for extended durations, can further exacerbate muscular stiffness and rigidity, making it challenging for individuals to initiate movement.

Physical therapists use various techniques, including passive range of motion exercises, gentle stretching, and strength training, to alleviate stiffness, improve muscle tone, and enhance functional independence.

Improve Cardiovascular Health

Individuals with dementia may have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease due to factors such as age, sedentary lifestyle, vascular changes, and comorbidities.

Regular physical activity promotes better circulation and blood flow throughout the body, including to the brain. Improved blood flow enhances oxygen and nutrient delivery to brain cells, supporting cognitive function and reducing the risk of vascular dementia.

For example, physical therapists may use low-impact, aerobic exercises such as walking, cycling, swimming, or chair-based exercises to help elevate heart rate, improve circulation, and enhance cardiovascular endurance.

Promote Better Sleep

Quality sleep is essential for overall health and well-being, yet individuals with dementia often have disrupted sleep patterns. Engaging in gentle exercise during the day can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle and promote better sleep quality.

Physical therapists may incorporate activities such as stretching, chair-based exercises, or short walks into therapy sessions to encourage movement. They will also assess for any underlying sources of pain or discomfort that may be interfering with sleep. Addressing musculoskeletal issues, such as joint stiffness or muscle tension helps alleviate pain and improve comfort, promoting better sleep quality.

Behavioral symptoms associated with dementia, such as agitation, restlessness, or sundowning, can also disrupt sleep patterns. Physical therapists may use a combination of sensory stimulation techniques (such as music therapy or aromatherapy) and stress reduction techniques (such as deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation) to promote a sense of calmness conducive to sleep.

Support Cognitive Function

While physical therapy cannot slow cognitive decline, some studies suggest regular physical activity can improve brain function and memory. Physical therapists incorporate cognitive stimulation exercises, such as memory games or word associations, into therapy sessions to engage and challenge the brain. They may also encourage your loved one to perform dual-task activities, such as walking while engaging in conversation, counting backward while performing exercises, or following visual cues during movement tasks.

While your loved one may be going to physical therapy, incorporating additional exercises can further benefit their health. However, if you’re considering moving them to the Arbor Trace memory care facility, rest assured that we offer diverse activities designed to stimulate both the mind and body.

Before initiating any exercise regimen, we will need to determine if your loved one has any underlying medical conditions, such as heart issues, hypertension, or arthritis so that we can choose exercises that align with their individual capabilities.

To schedule a tour of the Arbor Trace memory care community, please contact our friendly team today.

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