Occupational therapy doesn’t slow loss of function in Alzheimer’s

Posted on 21st November 2016

Annals of Internal Medicine: Targeting Functional Decline in Alzheimer Disease: A Randomized Trial

A study by researchers in the US have found that in-home occupational therapy was not able to slow the decline in day-to-day activity experienced by people with Alzheimer’s. Results from the two-year study are published today (Monday 21 November) in the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that affects different aspects of brain function and impacts a person’s ability to go about everyday life. Over time, people with Alzheimer’s need more support to carry out activities such as walking, eating, and bathing. This study set out to investigate whether occupational therapy could help people with Alzheimer’s to carry out these activities independently for longer.

A total of 180 people with Alzheimer’s took part in the study. One group of participants just received standard best-practice care, while the other group also received training from an occupational therapist. The therapist delivered sessions tailored towards an individual’s particular needs, with the training carried out in the participant’s own home. The researchers found that the decline in ability to function was not slowed by the occupational therapy.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“It is important to recognise that memory problems are not the only symptoms experienced by people with Alzheimer’s, and changes in brain function go hand-in-hand with increasing difficulty carrying out everyday tasks. These difficulties can mean that people with dementia require a lot of care and support, a responsibility that often falls to family members and loved ones.

“While there are a number of drugs in testing that we hope could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s in the brain in future, it’s still unclear how large their benefits could be on a person’s day-to-day function. It is vital that these pharmaceutical approaches are complemented by the best possible psychological therapies, care strategies and other means of support. While this particular approach wasn’t successful in this study, we need to see researchers continue to explore every possible avenue in the hunt for new ways to help people living with dementia.

“There are currently non-drug treatments that may be offered to people with dementia and occupational therapists can advise on appropriate care plans and environmental modifications. If anyone has any questions about the care they are receiving for Alzheimer’s disease, we recommend that they speak with their GP.”

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