We know approximately 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 fall, but did you know that cognitive impairment such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease doubles the risk even further? Around 60-90% of people over 65 with cognitive impairment will fall. This group also have 3 times the risk of a fall resulting in a fracture and are 5 times more likely to end up in a hospital or nursing home.
So why does this happen?
The normal process of ageing causes the loss of some neurons and synapses and the brain shrinks slightly, but this is far more pronounced in Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s causes both behavioural/psychological and physical symptoms which can place people at higher risk of falling.
Examples of behavioral/psychological changes:
– Sleep and night time behavior can change, resulting in increased fatigue during the day
– Hoarding results in increased clutter to trip on
-Wandering results in the person being in unfamiliar/unsafe locations
– Impulsive behavior may result in a person performing tasks that are unsafe
– Anxiety which can lead to rushing/ frantic movements
Gait/ Balance changes that occur:
– Slower walking speed
– Reduced step length
– Increased postural flexion
– Shorter step length
– Increased postural sway
– Increased unsteadiness
Balance and postural control is significantly affected because the brain can no longer get the messages to the muscles and joints to correct/change position fast enough due to the disease process. This results in increased reaction time and increased postural sway = HIGH FALLS RISK
What can we do?
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY- in particular physiotherapy prescribed balance, strength, and dual tasking exercises!!
Brain plasticity is the ability of the brain to grow new cells and make new connections. Studies show that elderly people who regularly exercise have increased brain plasticity and better use of the ‘memory’ and ‘learning’ areas of the brain than those who do very little exercise. These studies also show that normal age-related brain shrinkage appears to be reduced in older people who exercise.
We now know that regular physical activity will help slow the decline of people with mild cognitive impairment or dementia. It is never too late to start!
At Home Health Rehab, our treatment programs not only focus on the physical strengthening and balance but also improving cognition through specific exercises.
If you would like more information on what types of home rehabilitation exercises to perform or need some help getting started, please contact us. Our service areas extend from Torquay and Anglesea right through Greater Geelong up to the Western Metropolitan Melbourne suburbs.