With the current prevalence of Alzheimer’s affecting 1 in 10 of anyone over age 65, and over half of people over 85, it’s no surprise the disease has been at the forefront of conversations lately in elderly healthcare.
Here, Assisted Living Education shares some of the common current therapies used in treating Alzheimer’s or other dementia patients. While many studies and new discoveries seem to appear weekly on this disease, these are the more popular ones available at the time of this writing.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or other dementia disorders, there are medications that can help control or manage some of the cognitive and behavioral symptoms. Because AD/Dementia disorders affect the transmissions between neural pathways, the medications helping the cognitive aspect are designed to affect certain chemicals involved with these neural transmissions. Some of these medications can help with memory loss, cognition, confusion, and language, and some work through all stages of the disease, although most are only effective for a limited time due to the progressive nature of the disease.
The Alzheimer’s Association states at this time, there are about five drugs which have been FDA-approved in the treatment of symptoms in Alzheimer’s. As research progresses, other medications and treatments are being developed to address factors potentially contributing to these diseases. Elements that contribute to the development of the brain plaques and tangles seen in Alzheimer’s (specifically beta-amyloid, beta-secretase, and tau proteins) are current targets of research, as well as other factors like inflammation and insulin resistance.
Your resident’s doctor, psychiatrist or neurologist will determine or has determined which medications will be most effective for their care and treatment. However, in working with your residents, your daily observations can help assess whether continuing these treatments is beneficial.
Music has proven to be a powerful therapy or aide for many people, including those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. From relaxing and enjoying a melodic moment, to using it as a tool to redirect or calm a resident from agitation, music can be appreciated in a variety of ways. Soothing music can help create a calm environment, while upbeat music can inspire energy in the room. It’s best to use music from a source without commercials or other interruptions, as it can break the flow and cause confusion for the resident.
Music is such a powerful tool because an individual’s aptitude and appreciation for music remains longer than many other faculties in the dementia brain. Music is also able to stir emotions and memories from long ago, waking the dementia-riddled brain to moments of lucidity, cognizance and even articulation. Research has revealed a strong connection between the auditory and limbic system, which processes emotions.
Encourage movement, dancing for the ambulatory resident, or clapping, swaying, even singing. Music, movement and singing are not mentally-demanding for an individual to process, but it can actually stimulate brain activity.
There is also research indicating that individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (another dementia-related disorder) are able to move better when there is music with a distinctive beat playing. They can actually synchronize their movements to the beat.
If your resident is unable to indicate which type of music they prefer, families are a good resource, if available. If nothing else, try finding music from the ‘30s, ‘40s, & ‘50s (or the decades when they would have been a teenager or young adult) or favorite musical classics like The Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, or Wizard of Oz, e.g. Mixing in newer music that is unfamiliar to the resident is also useful, as there are no emotional attachments that could potentially elicit a sad/upsetting memory or response from them.
Like music, art therapy can activate an individual’s brain and stimulate a positive response. Also like music, art can be a vehicle of expression for the individual who has trouble articulating ideas, feelings, and thoughts. Art can be a conversation piece and a way to connect with other people. Creating art can help reduce anxiety, stress, and even symptoms of depression. If a resident with dementia is frustrated or depressed in the reduction of their abilities, art therapy can give them a sense of validation and confidence as they create and complete their works.
Art and music are effective tools for communication and expression because they actually draw on many parts of the brain, not just the area involved with language.
For the resident who enjoys animals, pet therapy is a welcome highlight in the day. Pets are
often seen as non-threatening, and providers of unconditional love. Therapy animals have been carefully chosen and trained based on their temperament and ability to interact with large and different groups of people.
As many of us know in our personal lives, the presence of animals is extremely beneficial. Spending time with an animal can be completely engaging and sensory, with the sights, sounds, scents, and tactile experiences they bring. Joy, stress relief, and reduced agitation are among the major benefits as well. For an individual with dementia, they also offer ease in physical interactions, and act as a vehicle for conversation, both of which may be otherwise difficult for the resident to access. Depending on the therapy animal and the organization, the resident may be allowed to walk or groom the animal, which can also provide a sense of responsibility. Studies have also shown that dementia residents will eat more after a visit with an animal, which can be a victory for those with appetite or other issues in undereating.
Of course, personal considerations must be made for each resident, whether they have allergies or any aversions to certain or all animals.
In working and getting to know your residents further, you will learn what kinds of things they respond to better, and which things to avoid.
Because Alzheimer’s and dementia education is a crucial topic in elderly care, Assisted Living Education offers extensive courses in our training specifically designed to address the issues and demands of these conditions.
Assisted Living Education is dedicated to providing the best in quality training, support, and services for this industry. Please visit our contact page for any inquiries or requests. Explore our website for a full list of RCFE training and continuing education courses, licensing, and other products and services we provide for assisted living.