How much more research do we need to tell us that the way we currently treat people with dementia is not the right way. Common sense should tell us that if we marginalise people with dementia and leave them on their own for long periods, the lack of stimulation in their lives will certainly not improve their condition. Their inability to remember things from the immediate past becomes a barrier to everyday living.
A spouse can often compensate for these memory lapses but eventually it can be at great personal cost. That is why support for those still living at home is so vitally important and yet currently Social Services are having to withdraw help from people in their own home, in order to prioritise inadequate resources on the most dependant. This is a nonsensical Government Health strategy, which can only lead to higher costs and poorer care in the long-term.
Nothing can be more debilitating than to take confused people into residential care, put them with lots of other confused people and give them nothing to do all day. Confusion just leads to more confusion – it is a totally defeatist strategy.
A recently reported piece of research in Bavaria followed the lives of residents with dementia who were given two hours of activity therapy 6 days a week for a year. The activities included gentle exercise, gardening, preparing meals and puzzles like crosswords and Sudoku. At the end of the study the residents had declined less than would be expected. The activity programme was at least as effective as drug treatment in modifying the progression of the illness.
This simple piece of research underlines conclusions already reached in research at the ExtraCare Charitable Trust over a good many years. This has now be formalised as an “Enriched Opportunities Programme” which is based on the individual lives of the residents. It is founded on the principal that the more familiar the activities are to residents’ former lives, the more satisfying they are likely to be.
Therapies for dementia are not rocket science, they are common sense, but they depend on society, the Department of Health and Social Services not turning their backs on the problem at an early stage.