Non-pharmacological Therapy For Dementia

There is currently no effective treatment to reverse or permanently stop the course of this disease. However, experts have developed different types of interventions that slow the progression of dementia.
Non-pharmacological therapy for dementia

Before we go into more detail about Alzheimer’s disease and non-pharmacological therapy, let’s first look at dementia.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines dementia as “a normally progressive disease (like Alzheimer’s disease) characterized by the development of multiple cognitive deficits (such as memory impairment, aphasia, and the inability to plan and initiate complex behavior).”

To narrow this definition down a bit, we can describe dementia as a disease that, for various reasons, leads to memory, communication and attention disorders. 

Dementia is usually chronic and leads to a gradual loss of autonomy and quality of life.

With this definition in mind, we can define Alzheimer’s disease as a neurodegenerative disease characterized by cognitive and behavioral disorders.

This disease tends to develop gradually and progressively worsen. It usually occurs in adulthood, mainly in the elderly.

There is currently no effective treatment to reverse or permanently stop the course of this disease. However, experts have developed different types of interventions that slow the progression of dementia.

A good example are non-pharmacological therapies, which consist of alternative interventions that can improve a patient’s quality of life.

An old man with Alzheimer's disease looks out the window.

Non-pharmacological therapy has many advantages:

  • It maintains and / or stimulates the remaining capacities,
  • promotes the autonomy and independence of the patient,
  • improves social relationships,
  • promotes self-image and thus self-esteem,
  • strengthens the patient suffering from dementia and
  • improves the quality of life of the patient and those close to him.

Non-pharmacological therapy: everyday activities

During non-pharmacological therapy, a professional will evaluate the patient’s performance with dementia.

The assessment varies depending on the degree of dependency and the need for support of the patient. The ultimate goal of this therapy is to delay or reduce the deterioration in performance in daily life.

Music therapy

The World Association of Music Therapists defines music therapy as “the professional use of music and its elements for intervention in medical, educational and everyday settings with individuals, groups, families or communities that optimize their quality of life and their physical, social, communicative, emotional, intellectual and want to promote spiritual health and wellbeing. “

Music therapy is one non-pharmacological therapy among many others. For example, one could also include dance therapy and physical therapy and combine all of these approaches. However, the individual abilities of each patient must always be taken into account.

Laughter Therapy

Laughter therapy assumes that the emotional discharge can alleviate pain and stress and promote well-being. It is also based on the incongruity theory of humor. This is about spontaneous, real laughter, but this method often leads to fake or simulated laughter.

Through this non-pharmacological therapy, the patient trains the expression, playing, dancing and breathing of the body. All of these help relieve stress that the disease can cause.

Non-pharmacological therapy: Snoezelen room

Anne Jean Ayres developed this type of sensory stimulation therapy. The main goal is for the patient to relax through their senses and through interaction with the people around them.

A Snoezelen room is a calming and stimulating environment in which patients feel comfortable.

Reminiscence therapy

It is a non-pharmacological therapy that is growing in popularity and addresses the patient’s episodic and autobiographical memory.

Therapists use resources such as photos, music, news articles, videos, etc. Specifically, these resources enable the person to remember specific moments in their life.

This allows them to relive emotional aspects of their memory, such as smells, feelings, and sounds.

Non-pharmacological therapy with photos

Reality Orientation Therapy

The main goal of this therapy is to make the patient more aware of their reality. The therapist enables him to orientate himself in three areas:

  • Environment (date and time)
  • Room (where is the patient)
  • Personal awareness (who is the patient)

This gives the patient a better understanding of what is happening. As a result, it is a very useful tool for maintaining a sense of control.

Non-pharmacological therapy: assisted intervention with dogs

Therapy with dogs has great benefits on an emotional, social, functional and cognitive level. In addition, it improves mood, physical and mental health and psychomotor skills, among other things.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy tries to rehabilitate cognitive, physical and social skills. For this purpose, the patients engage in various activities, such as handicrafts.

Cognitive stimulation, training or rehabilitation

Although quite similar, each therapy has a different goal:

  • Cognitive rehabilitation includes activities to restore damaged cognitive functions. This damage can have various causes. For example, head trauma, mild cognitive impairment, depression and others.
  • In addition, there is cognitive stimulation to delay the cognitive decline through certain activities; for example, when a person realizes they are starting to lose their memory.
  • Finally, cognitive training comprises a series of activities, all of which attempt to optimize or maintain cognitive performance. This is a good way to prevent cognitive impairment and improve cognitive reserve.
An elderly woman is looking out a window and is in need of non-pharmacological therapy

You have to take into account that only qualified professionals should perform non-pharmacological therapy and that each case will be assessed in advance and individually. Note, however, that none of these therapies can cure dementia. But they can improve the condition of those affected and their quality of life.

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