Talking found to help dementia patients

New study on benefits of reminiscing led by NUI Galway

Drawing on early memories is proving to be very effective in clinical trials.

Drawing on early memories is proving to be very effective in clinical trials.

Wed, Sep 3, 2014, 21:50

A “Dr Who” approach to engaging with people with dementia can have a marked impact on their quality of life, according to research led by NUI Galway (NUIG).

Reminiscing and drawing on early memories – similar to Dr Who’s method of communication as a veteran time traveller and television star – is proving to be very effective in clinical trials.

This type of “psychosocial” intervention may be more successful than pharmacological options for treating people with dementia in long-term care, Prof Eamon O’Shea of NUIG’s Irish Centre for Social Gerontology has said.

Death of cells

Dementia is caused by the death of brain cells, which leads to progressive decline of functions such as memory, orientation, understanding, judgement, learning, language and thinking.

Its prevalence has doubled every five years due to increasing longevity, and the care cost worldwide in 2010 was estimated at $604 billion (€459 billion). In Ireland, the care cost has been estimated at over €1.69 billion a year, 48 per cent of which is attributable to informal care provided by family and friends, according to the NUIG team.

It is estimated that the condition affects about 48,000 people in Ireland, with about 4,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

Outlining the details of the trial, presented at a conference in Galway yesterday, Prof O’Shea said it was the largest study of its type conducted internationally.

Individual talks

The reminiscence-based trial involved a structured programme for care staff, who engaged in individualised reminiscences with long-stay residents.

Impacts of the person-centred approach were measured in terms of mood, anxiety and restlessness, he said.

“We saw an improvement across all these quality of life indicators and it also had a positive impact on the care staff,” he said. “We tend to take normal encounters for granted, but it shows how important connectivity is for us.”

The reminiscence-based approach does not slow down dementia, but people with the condition tend to have intact early memories – highlighting the person’s preserved abilities rather than any cognitive impairment – he said.

Prof O’Shea is author of the first action plan for dementia in Ireland, and is involved in preparing the new national strategy which will be published by the Government. The research would help to inform the strategy, he said.