Occupational therapist working with dementia patient
Blog April 19, 2017

Three Ways Occupational Therapists Support Dementia Care

Occupational therapy, perhaps known best for its role in physical rehabilitation, has been shown to offer benefits to patients with dementia.

This is good news, considering the aging Baby Boom population in the United States. There are now more people over 65 than ever, according to the U.S. Census, and that number continues to rise. Since the single highest risk factor for developing dementia is age, the healthcare system will see more and more people dealing with dementia.

A recent study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that occupational therapy can lower the burden on caregivers and reduce the amount of care dementia patients need. Other research has come to the same conclusion. Here are three ways occupational therapy can help the treatment of dementia:

  1. Reducing Behavioral Problems

    Daily tasks such as teeth brushing can become more difficult to do when someone suffers from cognitive impairment. Occupational therapy can help simplify such tasks to help the patient become more successful in carrying them out.

    This, in turn, reduces the frustration that an individual with dementia experiences. When patients with dementia cannot carry out tasks that they know they should be able to perform, it leads to embarrassment, frustration and anxiety. Those feelings can hit a boiling point, at which time dementia patients have what is called a catastrophic reaction or meltdown. Occupational therapy can reduce the stress in carrying out tasks so that it doesn’t lead to a crisis.

  2. Lowering the Burden on Caregivers

    Occupational therapists can advise caregivers on how to minimize conflict. For example, caregivers can learn how to give the person with dementia wide latitude in carrying out tasks like setting the table for dinner or other simple chores without placing too much emphasis on doing it right. This can reduce the frustration and anger in both the caregiver and the person with dementia, while the latter can also get the sense of contributing.

  3. Lessening the Amount of Care Needed

    Structuring the environment helps the caregiver in other ways. If it's structure so the patient can do simple things safely and effectively, then that's less care that the caregiver has to provide.

    For example, occupational therapists may introduce a tub/transfer bench to the activity of bathing, so the dementia patent can get in and out of the tub safely. That's going to help not only the patient, but also the caregiver. It could reduce the amount of time the caregiver needs to spend with the patient during the bath.