According to The New York Times, science is weighing in on many aspects of taking care of dementia patients, applying evidence-based research to what used to be considered subjective and ad hoc.
With virtually no effective medical treatment for Alzheimer’s yet, most dementia therapy is the caregiving performed by families and nursing homes.
The National Institute on Aging and the Administration on Aging are now financing caregiving studies on “things that just kind of make the life of an Alzheimer’s patient and his or her caregiver less burdensome,” said Sidney M. Stahl, chief of the Individual Behavioral Processes branch of the Institute on Aging. “At least initially, these seem to be good nonpharmacological techniques.”
Techniques include using food, scheduling, art, music and exercise to generate positive emotions; engaging patients in activities that salvage fragments of their skills; and helping caregivers be more accepting and competent.
Comforting food improves behavior and mood because it “sends messages they can still understand: ‘it feels good, therefore I must be in a place where I’m loved,’ ” said Jan Dougherty, director of family and community services at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix.
Environmental considerations are also important. A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that brightening lights in dementia facilities decreased depression, cognitive deterioration and loss of functional abilities.