Caregiving and Dementia: New Ideas

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 through caregiving performed by families and nursing homes. Some 11 million people care for Alzheimer’s-afflicted relatives at home. In nursing homes, two-thirds of residents have some dementia.

Caregiving is considered so crucial that several federal and state agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, are adopting research-tested programs to support and train caregivers. There’s actually better evidence and more significant results in caregiver interventions than there is in anything to treat the disease.

The National Institute on Aging and the Administration on Aging are now financing caregiving studies on things that make the life of an Alzheimer’s patient and his or her caregiver less burdensome Initial results indicate that 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.

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