Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that many people will associate with a loss in memory but unfortunately, there are numerous other symptoms that can make life quite difficult for a person diagnosed with it. Another likely hurdle that these patients will have to deal with would be coordination problems as well as problems keeping your balance.
Why are coordination and balance affected in patients with Alzheimer's disease?
As you may be already aware, Alzheimer's is a condition that is a manifestation of the degradation of a person’s brain. The exact mechanism of what causes this is still unknown but it is believed that an accumulation of misfolded proteins can be responsible for these symptoms.
The first noticeable changes will be localized to the front of the brain, known as the frontal lobe. This is where behavioral and personality changes first become apparent. When balance and coordination become affected, this degeneration has already affected most other parts of the brain. The cerebellum is the structure of the brain that is located at the base and is the region responsible for balance and coordination. When this structure starts to become damaged, it will become harder and harder for a person with Alzheimer's disease to stabilize themselves and frequent falls will likely occur.
This same investigation also found that these late-onset Alzheimer's cases also had more pronounced visual changes compared to an earlier onset of Alzheimer's disease. The combination of visual and balance decline can help explain why these patients are more predisposed to suffering from falls.
Treatment options and exercises to help improve balance in Alzheimer's patients
When it comes to trying to treat the balance and coordination disorders typically associated with Alzheimer's, you must remember that the problem is multi-factorial and there is not a simple medication that a patient can take and solve their disorder. When it comes to proper therapy for this condition, the best type of therapy would be physical therapy and exercise.
The first type of exercise that can be quite beneficial to this group of patients suffering from Alzheimer's would be leg strengthening exercises to help stabilize their base. As we age, we naturally are in a much more sedentary position compared to the earlier part of our lives and as a result, the muscles that comprise our lower extremities typically weaken due to the reduced workload. This problem can become magnified when there is already an inherent balance disorder affecting the brain, such as Alzheimer's.
Without the power of the lower musculature to sustain balance, these patients will naturally be more prone to staggering and falling. Doing low-weight exercises like leg raising or “tip-toe” raising may be quite beneficial in this group of patients. A leg raise is a simple exercise where a patient can just lie in bed and practice raising one leg as high as possible then lowering it to about one inch off of the bed. This exercise should be repeated for the opposite leg and done multiple times a day to ensure muscle growth. Because this is done in the bed, the fall risk is significantly reduced so patients will not need to have a supervisor overseeing this type of exercise.
When it comes to “tip-toes,” this is a type of exercise where patients will need to be standing up. It is best to be positioned close to a wall or walking device in order to help stabilize the patient in the event they lose their balance. The exercise consists of shifting your weight onto the tip-toes and elevating a few inches into the air. This exercise targets your quadriceps and calves. It is best to carry out this exercise in the presence of someone else in order to make sure that patients do not fall as a result of the exercise.
Another intervention that needs to be introduced in addition to the strength training mentioned above would be the addition of some type of walking aid to help provide additional stability. Numerous patients in the clinic will at first be reluctant to this type of therapy. Many patients site the fact that using any form of walking aid can signify their loss of independence.
Another form of exercise that a patient suffering from Alzheimer's disease can benefit from is referred to as the marching exercise. During this exercise, patients must be standing. The patients are still able to carry out this exercise even if they require some type of stabilization support. The idea is to raise one knee as high as possible and then lower it back down. Rotate legs every step as if you are marching in place. Try to do this exercise for at least 20 repetitions. Repeating this exercise a few times a day can cause the most benefit for these patients.