Physiotherapist, Shelly Gardiner, speaks about physical activity and dementia

Leading a physically active lifestyle can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of people with dementia. This month we speak to Physiotherapist, Shelly Gardiner about the importance of physical activity.


Tell us more about yourself and what you do

I’m a qualified Physiotherapist having studied at the University of the Witwatersrand. I was placed at Bertha Gxowa Hospital for my community service year and it was in this year that I grew my passion for neurological rehabilitation. This special interest involves me treating both paediatric and adult patients with any neurological conditions i.e. cerebral palsy, strokes, spinal cord, traumatic brain injuries, etc.

It is incredibly important for me to assess my patients holistically to assist them in reintegrating back into their residential and community settings to the best of their ability for overall self independence. I therefore assess and treat a lot of my patients in both my out-patient settings as well as completing home visits. I work closely alongside caregivers and family members to assist with day to day carry over for overall improved active independence for the patient and getting them as actively involved in day to day tasks as possible.

It is not just about looking at a patient’s physical impairments but looking at the patient’s overall participation in his or her environment. Social and emotional factors that are important to the patient are important to keep in mind when completing our rehabilitation sessions. I absolutely love my profession and working closely with all members involved for the patients well being. 


Why is maintaining an active lifestyle important for the elderly but more specifically for those living with dementia? 

Dementia results from degeneration of neurons (brain cells) or disturbances to other bodily systems that affect how these neurons function. One of the biggest physical changes to occur when the neurons are affected is the increased loss of mobility and the inability to get up and move. Our cognitive function also allows us to plan and implement active and purposeful movements whereas with someone living with dementia, these cognitive processes are affected i.e. working memory, our ability to switch between tasks and being able to inhibit irrelevant information. Maintaining an active lifestyle, not just for those living with dementia, but all adults is important to maintain and improve our mobility and abilities to complete active and functional tasks of daily living. 


What is a good activity for someone with dementia?

I think an important factor to note is that any physical activity should be closely monitored and supervised for prevention of any physical injury and fall risks. Ensuring that the person is in a well known and familiar environment, that he or she responds well to, is another potential factor to assess when implementing functional activities. Supervised or structured activities that may be enjoyable and advantageous is walking, aquatic based classes and also group dance or movement based classes. It is always good to know what a person enjoyed doing in his or her spare time for physical leisure that may be meaningful and relevant to that specific person. I enjoy structured classes as they are social and interactive for all. 


How do you engage with dementia patients?

I always introduce myself fully and make sure the person is comfortable with me engaging with them. I will try and orientate the patient to their best ability without causing distress or increasing confusion which may upset the person. During my sessions we break down task components slowly and explain fully as we go along for their understanding. Keeping them comfortable and at ease is important and not forcing movements should they feel uncomfortable. It is important to create confidence in movement and not fear which may hinder many facilitations. 


How can someone reach you for an appointment?

I work in and around the northern suburbs of Cape Town. I am based in Panorama. Should you need any further advice please feel free to contact me on my work email- It would be my pleasure to assist.

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Arrive as family, live with dignity and purpose.

Since 2011, the Livewell Group has been at the forefront of dementia and Alzheimer’s care in South Africa. We are motivated by a personal and heartfelt concern for the dignity and care of our elders and our efforts continue to be encouraged by the strong market need for specialised individual care.

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