How New Research on Senior Dementia May Change Caregiving Approach

New Approach to Dementia Treatment

Dementia Patients Need Different Intervention

A new book by Dr. G Allen Power seeks to challenge conventional wisdom about how to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Dr. Power argues that dementia should be approached not as a disease, but as a different way of perceiving and experiencing the world. Seniors who experience conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia may seem to be out of control and may not communicate in ways caregivers can understand, but Dr. Power believes that new approaches to their care may improve well-being and quality of life both for the patients themselves and for their caregivers.

Understanding the Dementia Patient’s World

In his book, Dementia Beyond Disease, Dr. Power presents the idea that in order to better care for loved ones with dementia, caregivers should seek to understand the new world they live in. If, as Dr. Power believes, dementia and Alzheimer’s are primarily shifts in perception, then it may be possible to improve quality of life by seeking to understand the cause of the person’s distress rather than simply medicating. For example, a person may become easily frightened, startled, or irritated. If the source of the distress is a loud noise or if something is causing pain, caregivers can seek to eliminate the element of the environment that causes the person to become agitated. Although many dementia patients cannot articulate the reason for their distress, caregivers may be able to identify the cause by closely observing the individual’s body language.

How Caregivers Can Help Seniors with Dementia

Old-school thinking on the problem of dementia typically turned to medication to calm a person in distress or manage disruptive episodes. However, new research suggests that better results may be derived from changes in the way caregivers interact with the individual. One approach has successfully used music to improve the quality of life for these individuals. Music and Memory, a project specifically dedicated to using music to assist in the care of elderly people with cognitive disfunction, has produced positive results by accessing long-term memories through the use of music to stimulate the brain. By creating individual playlists for each patient, caregivers can help these patients maintain better interpersonal relationships, create a more supportive care environment, and reduce negative behavior.

The goal behind programs like Music and Memory is to identify alternative ways of reaching and interacting with the individual, thereby reducing the reliance on drugs to manage behavior. Caregivers can also seek to develop strong personal relationships with the individual based on their current perception of the world, rather than giving up in frustration when a dementia patient fails to remember or interact with family members and caregivers they way they did previously. Successful treatment methods usually seek to reach deeper into the brain, identifying long-term memory centers that trigger happier responses rather than relying on specific memories to maintain relationships.

The Essential Role of the Caregiver

Caregivers have always played a vital role in the care of people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. With this new approach to dementia treatment, however, family members and in-home caregivers would play an even more integral part in successfully managing the condition. By developing consistent routines, creating safe environments where the patient does not feel threatened, and actively seeking to identify causes of pain or distress, caregivers can help prevent negative behavioral interactions. In addition, making positive adjustments to the environment like identifying musical triggers and developing trust-based relationships with the patient may help improve feelings of happiness, facilitate better social interaction, and reduce the tendency to rely on medication for behavior management. When dementia claims the mind of someone you love, it can be difficult to find a way forward. By seeking to understand the new world of dementia and finding ways to reduce environmental irritants, family members can provide the best care possible for their loved ones.

Photo by jenny downing

Joyce Apperson

About Joyce Apperson

Joyce Apperson is a Registered Nurse and Geriatric Care Manager with 15 plus years of experience working with advocating for seniors. She is the founder and President of Caring Connection, Inc., which provides in-home care and geriatric care management in Harford County, Baltimore County and Cecil County in Maryland. Joyce currently serves on the Harford County Advisory Board on Aging. In addition to writing articles here for the Caring Connection's blog, Joyce has been a regular contributor on senior care topics to the County Gazette.