The Role of Therapy in Alzheimer’s Treatment


When we discuss occupational and physical therapy, certain things come to mind. Occupational therapy is often viewed through the lens of helping the developmentally disabled lead lives that are as productive and normal as possible. Physical therapy tends to be thought of in terms of recovery from accidents, surgeries, and debilitating illnesses. Yet it turns out both therapies are crucial in Alzheimer’s treatment. Those who work in such therapy jobs are dealing with a different kind of patient and, ultimately, a different outcome. But the role they play in treating patients is still important.

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of degenerative dementia that claims the lives of its victims in nearly every case. And because there is no cure for Alzheimer’s at this time, physical and occupational therapy is about making the patient’s remaining years as wonderful and enjoyable as possible. This kind of therapy requires a different way of thinking. It means doing the best you can today despite knowing that your patient will eventually succumb to the disease.

Occupational Therapy for Alzheimer’s Patients

Occupational therapists are trained to focus most of their attentions on what clients can do rather than what they cannot do. For example, most Alzheimer’s patients can maintain the ability to walk normally until the latest stages of the disease. But walking might be affected by imbalance issues. An occupational therapist might work with the family to declutter certain areas of the home in order to make walking safer.

Along those same lines, the therapist may observe an Alzheimer’s patient become agitated about household clutter or a particular furniture arrangement. He or she will work with the family or other caregivers to rectify the situation so the patient does not get agitated as frequently.

Occupational therapy for Alzheimer’s treatment is all about making the patient’s remaining years as enjoyable as possible. It concentrates on the positive aspects of daily life so that patients and their families can make the most of their remaining time together.

Physical Therapy for Alzheimer’s Patients

Physical therapy plays a very different role in Alzheimer’s treatment. In fact, it is directed both toward the patient and his or her caregivers. Therapists work with patients to overcome diminishing physical abilities as the disease progresses. For example, the therapist may help the patient overcome eating difficulties in order to maintain as much independence as possible.

Therapists also work with caregivers, especially during the later stages of the disease. They will teach caregivers how to help the patient out of bed, how to properly bathe the patient, and so on. This form of treatment is about providing appropriate care for patients without compromising the health of caregivers.

The physical therapist is also in an excellent position to explain to caregivers what’s going on with patients as their physical abilities begin to diminish. The combination of compassion and knowledge therapists bring to the table makes it easier for caregivers to understand the physical challenges patients are going through, increasing their own empathy and compassion at the same time.

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating disease that takes its toll on far too many families every year. Researchers are feverishly looking for successful treatments and an ultimate cure, with the hope that one day the disease will be just a distant memory. Until that day comes, occupational and physical therapists will be significant contributors in the treatment of the illness.

Therapy jobs involving Alzheimer’s patients are both challenging and rewarding. For those who do it well, there is great satisfaction in helping patients and their families enjoy a better quality of life despite the disease.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.

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    Beth liakos

    I don’t know too many PTs who work with patients on self feeding. Or bathing for that matter- not sure who wrote this article but they may need to review their understanding of the different therapy roles.

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