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How Can Occupational Therapy Be Used to Treat Dementia

When it comes to assessing how occupational therapy can be used to treat dementia, it is vital first to understand exactly what dementia is. Dementia is caused by damage to the brain and results in impaired cognitive ability. Damage to the brain is caused by conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of Dementia however, not all dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s.

As more people live to older age and age being one of the leading factors that cause Dementia, it is inevitable that cases of Dementia. While there currently is no cure for Dementia, there are therapies such as occupational therapy that can be beneficial in managing the symptoms.

What are the symptoms of Dementia?

There are many different symptoms of Dementia including:

  • Confusion
  • Memory Loss
  • Slower processing speeds
  • Inability to remember names, familiar objects, dates, etc
  • Unable to control emotions
  • Loss of motor skills
  • Disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Unable to follow a conversation
  • Loss of orientation with regards to times, date, years, etc

What Is Occupational Therapy and How Can It Help Dementia Patients?

You may think of occupational therapy as more of a rehabilitation program to help people remain independent in their lives. Much in the same way helping people to relearn basic skills in their day to day life, the work of occupational therapists can be helpful when applied to people diagnosed with dementia.

Initially, a therapist will need to assess the patient to determine how best to work with them based on their particular symptoms and how far the disease has progressed. Dementia is split into three stages:

  • Early Stages of Dementia
  • Middle Stage Dementia
  • Late Stage Dementia

Due to the nature of the Dementia, the occupational therapist will not get the same carry over in treatment as they would in other patients. This is due to the unpredictable nature of the progression of Dementia, meaning the patient may not remember their previous session of initial assessments.

Occupational Therapists can carry out assessments in care settings, or the NDIS registered therapist can conduct an at-home occupational assessment to prolong how long the patient can remain living in their own home for.

The Benefits of an NDIS Occupational Therapist for Dementia Patients

It is very important to remember that every patient will experience this condition in different stages and speed of progression. Starting occupation therapy in a home setting or a care facility as early as possible can help to do the following

  • Reduce the overall level of care needed
  • Lower the burden on caregivers
  • Reduce behavioural problems

Symptoms of Dementia mean the patient will start to forget how to do some of the simple things they have probably been doing their whole lives. NDIS registered occupational therapists can act as a consultant to help the patient and their caregivers manage the symptoms and prolong their memory via meaningful tasks and tools.

One main issue to keep in mind when working with dementia patients is that the inability to remember little things can result in behavioural changes and that lashing out at those around them is to e expected and is entirely normal. Occupational therapy can intervene and allow the patient to develop tools and strategies to help them combat this for as long as possible.

Tools for Dementia Patients via Occupational Therapy.

A functional assessment for occupational therapy will identify the areas each patient needs help with. This will differ and be based on the progression of Dementia and the patient’s circumstances. Once this assessment has been completed, the NDIS OT can work on building a meaningful relationship to help them implement the tools required to make life easier for the patient.

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 behavioural issues that many dementia patients struggle with.

An NDIS registered occupational therapist can also work alongside the caregiver to help them improve the patient/caregiver relationship and make life more manageable for everyone. The more caregivers know about Dementia and how best to help their loved one day today, the better they can care for a person living with Dementia.

The tools provided and implemented by an OT can help Dementia patients to regain confidence and extend their independence.

Occupational Therapy Tools for Dementia

The level of intervention and the specific tools they will put in place will greatly depend on the patient and their progression of the disease. Early-stage dementia patients will not be able to adapt well to systems put in place and be able to remember more of previous sessions and routines discussed and put into place.

Tools can help people living with Dementia to carry on doing tasks such as dressing themselves, finding their way around, carry on working in some capacity, cook meals, and more. Adapting their routines before the disease progresses can help them while they are still able to care for themselves relatively well.

Occupational Therapy At Early Stage Dementia

Many patients with early-stage Dementia can still function and live their lives pretty normally. This is the ideal stage to integrate Occupational Therapy into their lives.

At this stage, the use of memory aids will be particularly helpful. Using calendars, checklists, reminders, alarms, etc. will help to build a routine and get the patient in the habit of working through different tools to help them make sure they haven’t missed anything or forgotten to do something. Caregivers can also benefit from adapting to this type of structure at the same time, too to provide additional support.

If the patient can put into place a routine at this stage of the diagnosis, they can work to maintain their mental capacity and look to remain as independent as possible for as long as they can.

Occupational Therapy at Middle Stage Dementia

Middle stage Dementia is when you notice the symptoms start to intensify. This will be evident in a lack of self-care and basic hygiene, along with increased forgetfulness and confusion.

At this stage, an NDIS approved occupational therapist will focus on retraining the Dementia patient to help them do routine and everyday activities such as getting dressed, showering, or bathing and eating.

It is also beneficial for the occupational therapist to focus on working with the caregiver more. For many people, the urge to take over and ‘help’ when someone is struggling can take over what is in the best interest of the patient. Allowing the patient to work through this with less intervention will help them to avoid premature progression to late-stage Dementia. Allowing the person living with Dementia to be prompted with clues and cues means they don’t stop and do everything they still know and can do.

Focussing on retaining as much independence as possible is the focus for those suffering from middle stage Dementia symptoms. The longer they can retain cognitive function, the better it will be for them to help reduce outbursts and uncontrollable behaviour.

Occupational Therapy at Late Stage Dementia

At this point in the Dementia diagnosis, the disease will have fully taken control of the patient. For many, they will lose all sense of time and be fully reliant on those around them as caregivers for help and support. It will be highly likely they will not recognise those close to them despite their relationship.

Naturally, the occupational therapist will work to support any caregivers in the home or care environment. Work will involve educating those giving support to the patient on things such as exercise, basic care, interactions, and techniques to help them make life easier for both themselves and their loved ones with Dementia.

Caring for a person with Dementia can put a lot of strain on those who are caring for them, and as such, an OT can support them should they become overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted at a loss on how to cope.

Why Occupational Therapists Can Be Vital for A Dementia Diagnosis

Treating a patient with Dementia is about so much more than helping the individual to retain as much of their life and cognitive abilities as possible. Occupational therapy needs to be applied to those who will be looking after and supporting the person with the Dementia diagnosis.

Currently, there is no cure for Dementia, so making sure those affected by this disease have the right tools and knowledge to help them on their journey is vital.

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