Updated: Jun 21, 2019
June is Alzheimer’s and brain awareness month. We work a lot with individuals who suffer from various forms and degrees of dementia. It is a topic that we are all too familiar with. I could write about the science of it, but id rather speak about what I have seen personally. What we see on a daily basis at Reneu Health. I thought about all of my clients who suffered from dementia, and how it affected them personally, as well as their caretakers and family members. There are aspects that are heartbreaking and take a big toll on everyone involved, but what stands out most in my mind is hope. I vividly remember all of my clients, but there are those experiences that stand out because they surprise you and teach you something wonderful.
D was one of those clients. When I first evaluated her, she was diagnosed with “moderate to severe dementia.” She was no longer mobile, and she had 24 hour care. She couldn’t transfer, stand, or walk on her own, and she spoke very little. During the evaluation, we sat down with her and one of her sons, who was clearly very involved with her care. He did most of the talking, and D sat quietly and ate her breakfast. Our main goals were to increase mobility, maintain quality of life, and reduce pain. D had common symptoms caused by inactivity, which range from weakness and pain, to sleeplessness and agitation. Her dementia diagnosis was just a contributing factor to her decreased function and quality of life. Her son shared with us that his Mom’s dementia had stolen her from him. He was no longer able to have a conversation with her, or chat about his day with her. That is the reality of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
We worked consistently 2 days per week for about 45 minutes per session. We focused on giving verbal and tactile cues that D could follow. It was slow going. There was a delay between the time we asked her to complete a movement, and the time she would respond. At first, she couldn’t remember how to complete a coordinated movement, so we broke it down to simple movements, one at a time. Once she mastered those, we moved on to coordinated movements, and her response time improved. We started playing music during her sessions, and she became even more engaged. She started to respond with short answers to our questions. It became clear that her initial diagnosis of moderate to severe dementia was fluid. Her symptoms had been progressing at an alarming rate before we started working with her. After one month of consistent sessions she was improving by leaps and bounds. We had worked tirelessly on the best way to help her stand upright, and up until that point it had been very difficult for her. Chris and I worked together to lock her knees and support her hips so she could learn how to coordinate the movements and use the correct muscles. That day, we started to assist her and she just stood up from the table as if she had never stopped. We were stunned and also laughing that perhaps she had been able to perform the task all along.
Clearly, her brain needed time to catch up to her body, and the other way around. We take it all for granted when we are healthy. We forget all of the intricacies that go into the bodies communication from one system to another. D had been immobile and inactive for so long, that she couldn’t quite make the connections until she was asked to do so, consistently, and with the right cues. She continued to improve physically, but also cognitively. After a few months of consistent sessions we got even better news. She had spoken to her son, casually, out of nowhere, and asked him how he was doing with his new job. While this may not seem like a big deal, it was the most she had expressed an awareness of his life and his feelings in months. He didn't even know that’s she knew about his new job. He thanked us for giving him his Mom back. It was one of the most encouraging and hopeful moments in our career. It is the reason we press forward and encourage all of our clients and their families to be hopeful. We do have some amount of control over the course of aging, even when we are given a devastating diagnosis.
This story is the perfect illustration of the Use it or Lose it concept. The more assistance D required, the less she participated mentally and physically, and the more her brain and her body atrophied. When we challenged her body and mind to build and strengthen those connections, she became an active participant. She was able to regain some strength, mobility, consciousness, and joy. I will never forget her or her family, and I hope that her story inspires others to take control of their health, even in the most difficult times.
Director of Education
Reneu Health, Inc.
We are a team of experienced clinical kinesiologists who specialize in preventive and rehabilitative exercise for seniors. We believe that aging is part of a beautiful journey and everyone deserves to live their best life. We understand that as our bodies get older, it doesn’t function the same. As some see this as a limitation, we see it as an opportunity. With the right mindset, knowledge, tools and support we help improve quality of life, slow the progression of certain conditions and help you take control of your health.
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