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How Occupational Therapy Helps People with Dementia

It is estimated that more than nine million Americans could have dementia by 2030 and more than 12 million by 2040. Dementia is a group of symptoms associated with damage to the brain that affects cognitive functions such as memory loss, difficulty controlling emotions, withdrawal from social settings or usual hobbies, and problems with decision-making. In recent years, because of the increasing number of dementia cases among older adults, there’s been a growing interest in therapies that specialize in helping those with dementia cope with their disease and remain independent for as long as possible. As dementia progresses, managing day-to-day activities can become increasingly difficult, both for the person with dementia and their caregiver. Occupational therapy is designed to help people do the things they need and want to do, including bathing, cleaning, communicating, dressing, eating and maintaining their hygiene. In addition, occupational therapists (OTs) help those with dementia learn how to communicate with their environment and loved ones in new ways. Occupational therapists provide tools and strategies to help those with dementia function better, maximize their independence, identify areas of struggle and provide long-term solutions.

Common Problems Related to Dementia

Dementia can progress differently for each individual. Generally, those with dementia will gradually lose cognitive functions that can affect their daily life and ability to remain independent. Those with dementia often experience memory loss, and difficulty understanding conversations, questions, and instructions. In addition, those with dementia may also experience reduced thinking and processing speed, difficulty controlling emotions, and changes in their personality. While occupational therapists do not provide a cure for dementia, they do provide ways to cope with the disease through different strategies and techniques. Occupational therapists help individuals and their caregivers cope with common dementia-related problems such as these:

  • Cooking and household activities. Those with dementia may find it difficult to complete their daily tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, in the same ways as prior to their diagnosis. However, for many individuals, preparing meals and cleaning their homes are the core of home independence. Occupational therapists can help identify these problems and make recommendations to reduce them. Therapists will help create reliable routines, implement memory aids and suggest techniques to conserve energy and achieve goals.
  • Forgetfulness and memory problems. As dementia progresses, forgetfulness and loss of memory are likely to worsen. Occupational therapists can provide memory management programs that provide caregivers with strategies to help their loved ones maintain and possibly improve memory function. In addition, OTs provide suggestions on how to utilize and implement memory aids such as talking calendars and electronic medicine dispensers.
  • Mobility. According to NHS inform, those with dementia are more likely to experience problems with mobility, balance, and muscle weakness when compared to those without dementia. OTs are skilled at modifying home environments to decrease trip hazards and providing exercises to help increase strength, balance, and mobility.
  • Planning activities and socialization. As the disease progresses, those with dementia may find it difficult to socialize and experience disinterest in their usual hobbies and interests. Occupational therapists help those with dementia cope with anxiety, depression, and common frustrations by helping individuals implement effective planning strategies and techniques for socialization and holding conversations.

Benefits of Occupational Therapy for those with Dementia

According to an article published in the National Library of Medicine, the majority of people with dementia live at home, which enables them to maintain their social networks and enjoy high-quality life. However, as they experience a progressive cognitive and functional decline, their ability to perform activities and to communicate can be limited. Many individuals who receive a dementia diagnosis benefit greatly from the help of occupational therapists. Here are a few ways OTs can help provide support to those navigating a dementia diagnosis:

  • Improved safety and function. Brain damage that occurs as a result of dementia can severely impact an individual’s ability to live safely at home. A loss of memory and cognition can increase the likelihood of unsafe behaviors in the home, such as leaving the stove on, driving while confused, or forgetting to pay bills and attend doctor’s appointments. Occupational therapists create plans using tested strategies that allow those with dementia to decrease risky behaviors and stay independent for longer.
  • Address communication problems.  In the later stages of dementia, it’s common for individuals to become frustrated and react through angry outbursts, especially as they lose the ability to communicate verbally. Occupational therapists can teach caregivers how to respond to these outbursts with non-defensive response techniques and nonverbal cues. OTs can also simplify frustrating tasks to reduce the likelihood of outbursts and increase the likelihood of successfully completing tasks.
  • Provides education and support. Occupational therapy helps caregivers take better care of their loved ones by teaching them about the disease and how it impacts daily life. OTs can help caregivers set up routines, break down tasks to feel more manageable, reduce distractions and utilize visual cues. The main goal of occupational therapy is to help caregivers know how to encourage their loved ones to stay independent. 

Dementia and Occupational Therapy at Maplewood Senior Living

Research shows that occupational therapy has benefits for both individuals with dementia and their caregivers. At Maplewood Senior Living, we’re constantly looking for ways to support those with dementia through education, resources, and specialized therapies. To learn more about our communities or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

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Westport, CT 06880

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