Aug 22, 2011

Are Problems with Balance a Symptom of Alzheimer's?

Please get to the doctor and get to the bottom of the problem. It could be Alzheimer's causing the balance problem, it could be something that could be treated, it could be a medication you are taking, or it could be a symptom of another problem.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

A new reader emailed me and asked this qyestion,

Are Problems with Balance a Symptom of Alzheimer's?
"My husband is between mild to moderate and has started having trouble with balance. Is this one of the symptoms of Alzheimer's?"
Let me start by saying, I am not a doctor.

The simple answer to your question is yes, it could be. On the other hand, it could be something else, or a symptom of another problem. The only way to know for sure is to get an evaluation and some tests. I would recommend that you get a referral to a neurologist or geriatrician.

I did think immediately of this article, Problems with Balance, Walking, Falling Can Be an Early Sign of Dementia.

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This question also reminded of a major problem I had with Dotty when I first moved to Delray Beach to take care of her.

When I first arrived, Dotty was falling down all the time.

The situation was odd to me because when Dotty would fall, she wouldn't call out for help. And, she couldn't get up on her own. I would find her on the floor struggling to get up. I would help her up. Care to guess what I did next?

I asked her why she didn't call out for help. After a few times, it started to dawn on me she didn't know how to ask for help. Before that revelation, I was telling myself that she didn't ask for help for one of two reasons. She didn't ask because she wanted to prove she could do everything on her own and for herself. Or, she was embarrassed and did not want to ask for help.

It had not yet dawned on me that there was a much bigger problem -- dementia.

Even her bad behavior, telling me in a very loud voice, "get out". Well, that is the kind way of describing what she said. Did not immediately strike me as a sign of Alzheimer's. It took a while for me to wake up. Yes, I was novice at the beginning.

Later on, I found Dotty laying in the parking lot. She was shaking like a leaf.

Finally, Dotty fell down and broke her little finger while trying to dispose of some trash. My Dotty. Her finger is basically hanging off and she says to me, "there is nothing wrong with it". The finger was broken in two places. The finger next to it was turning purple, and was so big I couldn't get her ring off. Off we go to the hospital emergency room. I show the triage nurse Dotty's fingers and she tells us to have seat.

After an hour, I say to the nurse, I need to get this ring off, I am afraid it is going to cut off the circulation. She went and got me some KY jelly. I finally got it off.

Subsequently I learned I could have gone to the local Firehouse and they would have cut it off for us. Amazingly, they do this all the time. No one told me, I didn't know. A few years later we have another similar problem. Instead of spending ten and a half hours in the emergency room, I go right to the Firehouse. An EMT cut off Dotty's ring. Very adept I might add. I check Dotty's finger, it is not broker. We go home.

Okay back to Dotty falling. I ask around for some advice. Pretty simple you would think. Everyone including our then incompetent doctor tells me to put Dotty on a walker. I think to myself, Dotty can walk.

So I embarked on one of my greatest Bunkhouse logic episodes. Now you have to understand this is the way my brain is wired. I tell myself, I'll fix this problem on my own. I did. Actually, we did.

The first thing I did was get Dotty new shoes. This is when my love affair with the Aerosoles Mr Softee started. Next, I decided to put her on a treadmill. And last, I decided to get Dotty to do stand up sit-downs with me in the gym.

Dotty stopped falling and hasn't fallen since.

You might want to read these stories for what I believe is some excellent Bunkhouse advice.

Aerosoles, Alzheimer's and Falling, and Balance, Gait, and Mobility.

Believe it or not, I "Bunkhoused out" our own solution long before I read the research on Balance, Gait and Falling.

A couple of years later, I started to worry that Dotty was going to start falling. By then I had the masterful and wonderful Dr Chiriboga. Dos says, we will send her to physical therapy for an evaluation.

We get there and they ask Dotty to walk down this 20 foot red line in the middle of the floor, turn around, and come back. Dotty without holding on to anything, does her penguin walk right down the line, turns and walks right back. My mouth was wide open, and my eyes were bulging out of my head. I honestly could not believe what I had just seen. For the moment, that was good ol' Dotty walking with me in Manhattan. I can still remember vividly what she did. I can see it right now in my head.

So then they do some evaluation and tell me they can help. The first thing they tell me is they will put Dotty on an exercise bike. I ask is someone going to stand there with her? Answer, no. Well that won't work. I already know Dotty won't peddle a bike if you don't stand there and 'whip" her. I already tried this years before this evaluation. Then, they show me some dumb dumb exercises they will have Dotty do. We are already doing leg exercises using thirty pound weights in the gym. We don't need someone to bend Dotty's leg at the knee for a couple of minutes.

I think to myself at that point, we are out of here. Evaluation over. They ask, do you want to make an appointment? I say politely, No. But I know I have that razor blade look in my eyes.

At this point some music should play, and it should let you know that Dotty and I will embark on our own mission.

Bunkhouse logic time. I learned everything I needed to know at that evaluation. Dotty can walk. She walked right down that red line, turned right around, and walked right back. No walker for Dotty. That was at least 4 years ago by the way.

I know this. It has been suggested more than 100 times that I get Dotty a walker. We still don't have a walker. Last year, I said by this time this year we will have a walker. I said the same think the year before. I am thinking we will be getting the walker soon, or maybe we won't. I learned to go one day at a time, anyway.

Now don't get me wrong. I am a big fan of physical therapy. So to our reader that asked about a balance problem, I would suggest you get a referral for an evaluation from a physical therapy specialist.

More importantly, I would suggest you get a referral to a neurologist or geriatricians. Then get some tests to rule in or rule out causes of the balance problems.

I would suggest that you look for good, very flat shoes. And, that you try the treadmill. You can hold on while on a treadmill which actually improves balance. Walking on the treadmill improves balance. I know this from my Bunkhouse experience with Dotty, and the research with Parkinson's patients supports this conclusion, Balance, Gait, and Mobility

If you are not experienced with how to start, get on, and get off a treadmill, I suggest you use a qualified trainer the first few times until you get the hang of it. You can fly off a treadmill if you don't get on and off correctly.

Please get to the doctor and get to the bottom of the problem. It could be Alzheimer's causing the balance problem, it could be something that could be treated, or it could be a symptom of another problem. You are always better off when you know. Not knowing only leads to greater stress and heartache.

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Bob DeMrco
Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The blog contains more than 2,800 articles with more than 602,100 links on the Internet. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room