How Can Occupational Therapy Be Used to Treat Dementia?

Friday, March 13, 2020

As our population continues to grow, the number of people over 65 grows as well. Age is the leading factor that causes dementia which means that the number of dementia cases is also likely to increase.

With this in mind, we're sharing Occupational Therapy interventions that can be used to treat dementia. Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia, BUT Occupational Therapy has proven to be a huge help in managing the symptoms.

What is dementia?

Dementia refers to a group of symptoms associated with the deterioration of the brain and its functions. Often confused with Alzheimer's disease, Alzheimer's is simply a form of dementia and not all dementia stems from this disease.

Dementia can present itself as:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Apathy
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Slower processing speeds
  • Impairments with recall (names, dates, familiar objects)
  • Impairments in understanding conversations
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of motor skills

Below, we'll be going over how Occupational Therapy can assist dementia patients and their caretakers along with some common interventions therapists use during each stage of dementia.

How Can Occupational Therapy Be Used to Treat Dementia?

Occupational Therapy and Dementia Interventions

You may understand occupational therapy mainly as a physical rehabilitation program to help ill or injured people regain their independence at home, school, work, or wherever they regularly spend time. Occupational Therapy can help dementia patients in the same way.

Occupational Therapy helps people with dementia in three major ways:

  • Reducing behavioral problems
  • Lessening the burden on caretakers
  • Reducing the overall amount of care needed

Patients suffering from dementia often act out due to their condition. Forgetting how to comb your hair or start the dishwasher can be incredibly frustrating so it's no wonder that dementia patients are known for their behavioral problems.

Occupational Therapy gives patients the tools they need to more easily complete many of the tasks that used to come easily to them. By simplifying tasks throughout the home and in public, it can greatly reduce the behavioral issues that many dementia patients struggle with.

Additionally, Occupational Therapy helps with the patient/caretaker relationship. Caretakers can get just as frustrated as the patients themselves with the changes that occur due to dementia. So, occupational therapy attempts to lessen the burden.

By educating caretakers, occupational therapists encourage independence among dementia patients, even if the activities they are able to do have been severely impaired.

Overall, Occupational Therapy helps dementia patients regain much of their confidence. With the proper tools and systems in place, they are able to feel a sense of purpose while also requiring less from their caretaker.

Everyone is different and Occupational Therapy activities for dementia patients can vary widely. In the next section, we'll go over the specifics of Occupational Therapy for dementia.

Occupational Therapy Interventions for Dementia

Occupational Therapy (OT) interventions for people with dementia will vary based on the stage of their diagnosis. So, someone in the early stages of dementia will receive different interventions than someone with severe dementia.

To determine what type of intervention is right for you, you'll undergo a series of occupational therapy dementia assessments. From there, your therapist will come up with a personalised plan to help you regain your independence in everyday life.

Occupational Therapy During the Early Stages of Dementia

In the early stages of dementia, you may find that you're still able to function at work and in your normal activities. However, it will still be incredibly helpful to incorporate Occupational Therapy as soon as you notice the signs of dementia creeping in.

Even if you simply notice misplacing your keys, forgetting to take your medication, or you missed another appointment, OT can help.

In the early stages of dementia, your Occupational Therapist might incorporate interventions like memory aids such as calendars, checklists, reminders, alarms, or a curated routine. Your caretakers will also be involved so that everyone is on the same page about your goals.

Occupational Therapy During the Middle Stages of Dementia

As dementia intensifies, your memory might start to decline even further. During the middle stages of dementia, you'll likely have more trouble with basic self-care activities like making it to the toilet on time or brushing their teeth.

At this point, Occupational Therapists will really focus on the caretakers by educating them on what to do. Many times, when caretakers are too eager to step in and help, the patient is likely to deteriorate faster in a “use it or lose it” sense.

An OT will also help you re-train yourself to get dressed, tie your shoes, have a shower, and eat. These interventions are a win-win since the caretakers won't have as much responsibility and the patient will continue to work on their motor skills while protecting their independence.

Occupational Therapy During the Late Stages of Dementia

Unfortunately, in the late stages of dementia, the disease has entirely taken ahold of the patient's sense of space and time. This will leave them almost totally dependent on a caretaker so Occupational Therapy at this stage focuses less on the patient and mostly on those caretakers.

Interventions in the late stages of dementia include educating caretakers on how to safely transfer the patient, home exercise programs to do with the patient, and other techniques to improve the patient's way of life.

However, OT interventions at this stage might also include support for caretakers who often end up depressed, exhausted, and extremely stressed.

As you can see from the Occupational Therapy interventions during all three stages of dementia, there is a heavy focus on caretakers. Education and support for caretakers and family members are just as important as the exercises dementia patients will be doing with occupational therapists.

Although there is no cure for dementia, Occupational Therapy helps to significantly decrease its progression and effects. By working with both patients and caretakers, occupational therapy is one of the most important interventions you can take when dealing with dementia.

More Occupational Therapy Resources

Our mobile occupational therapy services come to you! Book an appointment online or call us today to get started with an occupational therapy plan for dementia.

To find out if our Physio Inq Occupational Therapy team service your area click HERE.

This article was originally written by Jonathan Moody from Physio Inq

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