Alzheimer's art

It is important for individuals with Alzheimer’s to stay moving, but it is not always possible because of the progression of the disease or medications.

However, when a cane or walker is needed, those with the disease often resist or cannot understand how to use the device and can become anxious or agitated.

Caregivers can help in supporting and encouraging their loved ones by assisting and guiding them in the use of the device. However, this often becomes an ongoing and frustrating routine and practice.

Using a cane or walker is a complex cognitive activity for those with memory impairment, and may do more harm than good.

"It seems counterintuitive that using a mobility aid, such as a cane or a walker, can actually increase the risk of falls in older adults. Yet in individuals with dementia, that’s exactly the case. In fact, people with dementia are three times more likely to suffer a fall when using a mobility aid versus not using one at all. By using a mobility aid a person needs to have a lot more cognitive fitness and capacity. You now have one more object to maneuver around obstacles,” says Susan Hunter, associate professor at the School of Physical Therapy at the University of Western Ontario.

In her academic work with rehabilitation of cognitively impaired older adults, Hunter has found that using canes or walkers only slightly increases the intellectual work in healthy adults, but the workload increases up to 40% for individuals with dementia. This 40% of extra thought and reasoning may result in increased instability, which in turn, can lead to falls or accidents.

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Moreover, the affected individual may not use the walker or cane in the proper way or is only able to use the walker or cane with constant reminders or extensive cues.

And, if the person forgets about the cane or walker, it may add another tripping hazard in the home or health care setting.

The use of canes or walkers is seemingly a double-edged sword. If using mobility aids for walking and to prevent falls, safety of the affected individual should remain at the forefront and of concern for caregivers.

The individual’s gait, balance skills and grip strength should be assessed by a physical therapist or physician so the right type of cane or walker can be recommended. Once fitted, the individual using the mobility aid should be consistently monitored.

Additionally, installing safety measures around the home such as ramps, grip bars and raised toilet seats and removing fall hazards like rugs, furniture and objects can be extra and necessary methods of maintaining the environmental safety of those with Alzheimer’s.

Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at