Seniors with Dementia and Occupational Therapy

Bethesda Health | February 20, 2017

Occupational therapists can improve life for seniors with dementia by concentrating on what those suffering from the progressive disease are able to do and maximizing those skills and abilities.

Many senior care organizations, including Bethesda, are committed to providing an exemplary care environment for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia through dedicated Memory Support neighborhoods. In most of Bethesda’s skilled nursing home communities throughout the greater St. Louis area, for example, residents live their lives comfortably and happily in a safe and secure environment under the supervision of staff who are experienced in addressing the needs of residents living with dementia. In addition, Bethesda Senior Support Solutions (a unique private duty program) provides support for family caregivers who are trying to keep the home safe and pleasant for a loved one living with dementia.

Examining the evidence

“When an occupational therapist meets a new resident living with dementia, the process is similar to a television crime scene show,” said Arthur Levesque, Director of Clinical Operations and National Occupational Therapy Specialist for Rehab Care, Bethesda’s provider of therapy services. “Therapists review the evidence of cognitive function, and identify which methods can best help the patient.”

Every case is different, according to Levesque, because every patient responds differently.

“Occupational therapists try to help seniors with dementia better handle the activities of daily living, such as getting dressed, going to the bathroom, bathing and medication management,” Levesque said. “But it’s also important to look at each person’s life and personality.”

By determining the cause of a senior’s difficulties as opposed to just what the patient can’t do, occupational therapists can often find a way to unlock hidden abilities.

“Occupational therapists can take a look at the client’s environment during dining, for example,” Levesque said. “Highly distractible environments like loud televisions or radios playing in the background, extraneous conversations that have no bearing on the task at hand or bright lights may impair a senior with dementia’s attention during the dining activity.”

“On the surface, this may appear as the client’s inability to engage in self-feeding,” Levesque explained. “This usually results in the caregivers having to feed the individual despite the fact that he or she may be capable of doing so.”

When an occupational therapist is able to come to the conclusion that it’s the distractions of the dining room – not the mechanics of feeding themselves – that is troubling the patient, they then realize that the senior could benefit from receiving meals in the quiet of privacy of their room. This simple conclusion helps to restore some self-sufficiency.

Goals of occupational therapy for dementia patients

Although each patient is different, there are common goals that occupational therapists and caregivers set for the daily lives of seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Getting the most out of abilities

One way occupational therapists can help dementia patients is by providing reminders that stimulate cognitive skills.

A person with dementia may have problems telling apart the doors in the hallway of the community where he resides. A shadow box filled with personal items can help them to identify the correct door to their living space. A weekly pill organizer can help a senior track her or his medication. If a senior with dementia is easily distracted, he or she might benefit from eating in their room with one-on-one attention from a therapist as opposed to trying to dine in a noisy and crowded main dining area with other residents.

“More than likely, things aren’t going to change for a person with dementia,” Levesque said. “Their cognitive skills are going to continue to decline. But the question is, What can we do to learn to adapt to that environment?

A growing population

Learning to help dementia patients feel more comfortable and secure in their environment is going to be an even more important tool in the future. According to the World Health Organization, more than 47 million people around the world currently suffer from dementia. The number is expected to increase to more than 75 million people by the year 2030.

“By assessing not just cognitive abilities of the dementia resident but also their environment, their physical abilities, and their other health factors, we can come up with the best plan and practices to help memory care patients get the most out of life,” Levesque said.

Do you have a senior loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s? They may benefit from Memory Care services, like those offered at Bethesda Skilled Nursing communities, close to home in the greater St. Louis area. Contact Bethesda for more information.

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