Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of progressive conditions that affect the brain. There are various subtypes of dementia, but the five most common are: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies (often associated with Parkinson’s disease), frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia.

The brain is made up of nerve cells called neurones that communicate with each other by sending messages. Dementia damages the nerve cells in the brain so messages can’t be sent from and to the brain effectively, which prevents the body from functioning normally. This can cause memory loss, confusion and mood changes.

Regardless of which type of dementia is diagnosed and what part of the brain is affected, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way.

Dementia can affect people of any age but is generally more common over the age of 65. If one develops it before this age it is generally referred to as early onset dementia. There are currently over 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK and this figure is rising all the time as we are living longer.

In the UK there are more women than men with dementia, 61% as opposed to 39% of men with the disease. This is generally because women tend to live longer. It is anticipated that by 2021 there will be over 1 million people with Dementia in the UK. Dementia develops slowly and the symptoms are not always obvious initially, often mixed up with general ageing and some age associated memory loss

As dementia progresses people may experience the following difficulties

  • Difficulties with their ability to remember, think and make decisions.
  • Communication and language often become more difficult with people struggling to find the right words they want to say.
  • Difficulties with orientation, people can get lost in familiar surroundings and can wander off.
  • A person’s behaviour may change, and some people can become sad or demoralised.
  • Anxieties or phobias are quite common.
  • Problems with time perception may cause problems with sleeping and restlessness at night.
  • Anger or agitation is common in the later stages of dementia.
  • It is common for people to be unsteady on their feet and fall more often.
  • Gradually people require more help with daily activities like dressing, toilet use and eating.

How Occupational Therapy Can Help

Occupational therapy can be a valuable source of support for clients with Dementia, their carer’s and their families. The role of an Occupational Therapist (OT) is to work with clients to maximise their level of independence with their daily activities. This can be achieved through the assessment of a person’s daily life to identify routines and activities that they wish to maintain, their strengths and limitations.

The Dementia journey is different for everyone diagnosed and an OT’s role is to provide clients and their families with the tools needed to maintain function and preserve their memory for as long as possible. An OT will work closely with a client with Dementia and their family to identify the areas they are struggling with and help them find alternative ways to manage. We can offer practical advice and techniques to the client as well as their family members.

Advice and assistance:

  • Advice on alternative ways to continue to complete every day activities such as washing, dressing and meal preparation as the condition progresses.
  • Advice and support with sourcing the right equipment to help with difficulties as they arise for example a supportive chair or bathing equipment.
  • Looking at the longer term and making recommendations to ensure your home will meet your needs both now and in the future. This will include considering adaptations such as wet rooms, ramps and stair lifts.
  • Social participation and well being.
  • Memory strategies to help manage short term memory loss such as calendars, journals and medication prompts.
  • Routine planning, to help structure the day and provide stability and familiarity.
  • Information and emotional support for carers such as signposting them to local support groups and resources, carers forums, benefit advice and day centre information.
  • There are a range of telecare sensors that can help to manage risks within the home or care environment and provide a means to call for immediate assistance if required. Tailored to suit individual needs they can help dementia patients take control of their living conditions, enabling them to live comfortably and safely in their own home. Examples are a lifeline pendant, a door usage sensor, a GPS tracker, a medication reminder, a flood detector, a gas detector

Practical Tips:

  • Encourage them to keep a notebook or diary for things such as appointments, To Do lists, thoughts and ideas.
  • Keep important things like money, glasses and keys in the same place.
  • Put labels on doors and cupboards.
  • Place important numbers by the phone where they can be seen easily.
  • Put a note on the back of the door as a reminder to take keys .
  • Label family photographs, both on display and in albums.
  • Pin a weekly timetable to the wall.
  • Mark a calendar with the date or get an electronic calendar that changes automatically.
  • Write reminders to lock the door at night, turn the gas off and put the rubbish out on a certain day.

Related Case Study

Dementia Case Study