June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month and “everyone with a brain is at risk for Alzheimer’s”(1).

Alois Alzheimer

Alois Alzheimer

Of the 5.3 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease, 5.1 million are older adults (> 65 years of life experience) (1).  This video illustrates the pathological process of this disease:  http://www.alzheimers.org/rmedia/adanimation.htm.

Clinically, Alzheimer dementia presents as a gradual decline in cognition over months to years with impaired memory and dysfunction in one or more other cognitive domains (ex. language, visuospatial presentation, executive function) (2).

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and effective treatment remains a research goal (3).  Studies of physical activity effects on biomarkers and cognitive function indicate potential for neuroprotection to reduce the slope of decline (3).

As a physical therapist, I appreciate opportunities to work with patients who have dementia.  Increasing physical activity is an important goal, one that requires astute interaction with patients, caregivers, and families.  Although it is difficult to see and hear about struggles and challenges they face along with their loved ones, it is also a privilege to learn their life stories.  In fact, I find it is usually essential to figure out what their life was like before cognitive decline in order to adapt therapeutic activities to meet their needs.basketball hoop
For example, if the patient is a retired basketball coach, then I can work on standing balance and endurance by simulating basketball maneuvers. Familiarity of this activity is more likely to engage the patient’s interest and attention than unfamiliar, standard balance exercises.  The needs of every patient are different, and responses to treatment sometimes change; this variability makes creative thinking even more important.


What physical activity do you think you will perpetually enjoy in the context of altered cognitive health?

Our Guest Blogger this week is: Rebecca Galloway, PT, PhD, GCS, CEEAA, Assistant Professor & Director of Clinical Education, Bridge PTA to DPT Program and Fellow of the Sealy Center on Aging.


  1. Alzheimer’s Association. 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. http://www.alz.org/facts/overview.asp. Accessed 6/15/2015.
  2. Guy M. McKhann et al. “The diagnosis of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease: Recommendations from the National Institute on Aging – Alzheimer’s Association workgroups on diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer’s disease.” Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, 2011; 7(3): 263 – 269.
  3. Phillips C, Akif Baktir M, Das D, et al. The link between physical activity and cognitive dysfunction in Alzheimer disease. Phys Ther. 2015;95: http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/early/2015/04/01/ptj.20140212.


  1. Alois Alzheimer. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://ihm.nlm.nih.gov/images/B30091.  Accessed 6/15/2015.
  2. Basketball-Goals.jpg; Image Source: Microsoft Office