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What is dementia?

Dementia causes a progressive loss of function. It is a group of symptoms that occur when the brain is damaged or is a result of other conditions.

Dementia is progressive in nature and causes impairment of cognitive function such as memory,atten¬tion, concentration and problem solving. In the later stages of dementia walking, talking, continence and behaviour can also be affected. This will affect a person’s ability with everyday tasks at work and at home.

People with dementia who have problems with their mobility, their balance or their strength will benefit from physiotherapy. Physiotherapy will increase your independence and sense of well being by helping you stay active and preventing your risk of falling. Physiotherapy will promote mobility and everyday tasks making your life easier.

Bridging exercises to improve core stability, strength and postureAbove: Bridging exercises to improve core stability, strength and posture

Types of dementia

There are many types of dementia each with their own causes. The most common include:
  • Alzheimer’s – is caused by plaques that develop over time in the structure of the brain, leading to the death of brain cells. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, which means over time more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, the symptoms become more severe.
  • Vascular dementia – is caused by disruption in blood supply to the brain through the vascular system which in turn causes brain cells to die leading to dementia.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies – shares characteristics with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease and is caused by small proteins that form on the nerve cells in the brain disrupting memory and motor control. It can also cause changes in attention, such as tiredness and loss of speech, and motor symptoms such as rigidity and loss of spontaneous movement. This type of dementia is progressive which means the symptoms will become worse over time. Lewy body dementia can progress rapidly.
  • Fronto – temporal dementia - caused by damage to the frontal lobe and/or the temporal parts of the brain which are responsible for our behaviour, emotional responses and language skills.
  • Koraskoff dementia – associated with heavy alcohol drinking over a long period of time causing a lack of vitamin B1 and affecting the brain and nervous system.
  • CreutzfeldtJakob disease – also known as prion disease, which is caused by clusters of proteins that form damaging brain cells and cause dementia
  • Aids-related cognitive impairments - People with HIV and AIDS can sometimes develop dementia especially in the late stage of their illness. The cause is not clear however, HIV/AIDs may increase their risk of developing dementia as their compromised immune system is frequently susceptible to infections which affect the brain.
Dementia affects everyone differently and the majority of people with dementia are elderly. Dementia is a progressive disorder which will in time affect a person’s physical functioning. If your physical functioning (balance/mobility/strength) has been affected physiotherapy treatment can play a major part in your rehabilitation.

Diagnosis of dementia

It is difficult to confirm a diagnosis straight away as the progression of dementia is slow and the symptoms are often associated with normal signs of ageing. If you suspect dementia your GP will take a thorough physical and mental examination including memory and mental ability tests and may refer you to a memory clinic or a consultant for more tests.

What are the effects / symptoms of dementia?

Dementia is progressive and develops slowly, with mild early symptoms getting more severe over time. Dementia affects everyone differently and symptoms will depend on the type of dementia you have. A person with dementia may have all or only some of the following:

Physical Symptoms include:
  • Parkinsonian symptoms such as rigidity, problems with balance and initiating movement, shuffling gait
  • Muscle weakness
  • Reduced mobility
  • Increased risk of falling
Non physical symptoms include:
  • Memory loss, particularly of recent events. Dementia may affect short term memory first and then progress to long-term memory
  • Difficulty remembering words
  • Difficulty with practical skills and thinking clearly
  • Problems learning new skills, information and ideas
  • Feel confused and disorientated especially in new places
  • Changes in personality and behaviour making you feel aggressive, anxious or depressed
  • Difficulty with everyday tasks at work or at home
  • Difficulty sleeping
Physiotherapy treatment can help with the physical symptoms of dementia. Physiotherapy will also increase your confidence and motivation and decrease your fear and anxiety.

Physiotherapy for dementia

Physiotherapy treatment for people with dementia is best provided by a specialised neurological physiotherapist at Physiotherapy treatment will help increase your independence in everyday life by enhancing your mobility and promoting your health and well being. Our motivated physiotherapists at acknowledge that dementia affects everyone differently so treatment is tailored to your needs.

A person with dementia should seek physiotherapy treatment as our physiotherapists play an important role in helping carers to live easier lives by reduce stress levels and suggesting ways to remain physically active and preventing the risk of falling.

Physiotherapy will target problems associated with ageing such as limited range of movement, swelling, pain and muscle weakness. People with dementia have an increased risk of falling so treatment will also look at how to prevent falls. Physiotherapy is focused on:
  • Balance training to help improve confidence and reduce the risk of falling
  • Promoting mobility and to make functional abilities easier. For example, walking, and balance may become difficult as dementia progresses, but can be improved by learning new ways of doing things
  • Stretching tight muscles and strengthening weak muscles to improve walking, climbing the stairs or getting in and out of a chair/bed
  • Advice on devices for the home environment or mobility aids, such as walking sticks to increase safety and promote functional abilities
  • Increasing motivation and decreasing fear or anxiety
  • A thorough assessment will be carried out in your home looking at furniture, footwear and clothing as well as your physical ability in order to promote your safety and independence
Physiotherapy at is effective and enjoyable. To arrange a full assessment and book an appointment call 0330 088 7800, book online or alternatively request a free phone consultation

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