When many people think of physiotherapy they think of that person who runs onto the pitch when a player is injured gets their magic sponge out and within a few rubs all is well again. So what role CAN physiotherapy play in dementia and why does it matter?
This was the question that struck me when I learned that I was going to be the first physiotherapy student from Glasgow Caledonian University to go on placement at Alzheimer Scotland. I had met people with dementia before on other placements and my experience was of frail old ladies and gents in their 90’s and it didn’t take long before I was scouring the web looking to discover more information to get to grips with this daunting new placement and role. Soon I had ideas whizzing around my head about what I would be doing on placement and the types of people I would be seeing. These ideas all started to change on my first day on placement, receiving dementia friends training made me think twice about my misconceptions.
Then a trip to a Dementia café where I met the real people with dementia that Alzheimer Scotland help completely turned my ideas on their head. The people there weren’t wee old ladies nor were they by any means frail. There were people here younger than my own parents who looked and were, fit and healthy. So my whole idea of what I was here for was out the window.
Luckily I wasn’t alone I had great support in the form of Lorna a dementia advisor who knew every one of the people at the café personally. She was able to introduce me to the individuals who she felt would most benefit from my knowledge and ability. It was after this I knew that going back to basics was the best thing I could do. For physiotherapists basics mean providing exercise for therapeutic purposes. In other words I would set up and run exercise classes to improve the general fitness of the participants. The overall aim would be to introduce them to activity and eventually get them to independently engage with the resources in their area to continue being active individuals living well with their diagnosis. This would be my remit for the placement getting people to engage with their own health and take action to make a lifestyle change to increase their activity levels.
The thread that runs through all physiotherapy services from musculoskeletal services to pulmonary rehabilitation or even care of the elderly is that we aim to maximise a person’s ability to be active and independent. We try to promote healthy lifestyles, especially the minimum activity amount of 150 minutes a week that all adults should be achieving. It sounds easy enough when you break it down to 30 minutes a day but getting into the routine can be difficult and for some the mere mention of exercise brings on cold sweats. Though there is no need to fear activity, a brisk stroll through the park, washing the car, doing the housework all of these things count towards our 30 minutes of daily activity. Building a routine that encompasses our household chores is a great way to keep ourselves fit, active and maybe even save some money!
I discovered during my placement that there are plenty of options to keep active out there in Lanarkshire. Paths for All is a great organisation that provides you the opportunity to go out on organised walks all over Lanarkshire and meet new people. Both North and South Lanarkshire leisure offer specialist classes for all including age specific exercise classes called Active Health, swimming as well as other sporting opportunities. If you are lucky enough to qualify you can get access to South Lanarkshire leisure facilities for as little as £1.10 per week!!!
For those who experience dementia it can be a terrifying condition where you feel you are stripped of your independence and perhaps even your dignity. Alzheimer Scotland offer support and guidance to everyone involved and are able to put you in contact with local activities. As I have experienced over my short period with Alzheimer Scotland, they are a supportive well informed group of caring individuals who I owe a very big thank you for all their help and making a positive impact to my future career as a physiotherapist.
What physical activities would you like to take part in within your local area??