Alzheimer’s disease is relentless. It progresses steadily while we are waiting for a miracle drug to get us out of this nightmare. While we want to remain optimistic, such magic pills may not reach the market for years to come, and the current medication leaves most people unsatisfied.
What should we do? Sit back and do nothing while the quality of life of patients decreases? If we look well, there are more optimistic answers and strategies that will improve our role as professionals: cognitive rehabilitation for people with Alzheimer’s is one of those answers.
From NeuronUP, we clearly support the benefits of non-phamacological therapies (NPTs)—a category under which cognitive rehabilitation falls —in individuals who suffer from a neurodegenerative disorder such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease. This conviction is not vain but based on scientific evidence that supports the use of NPTs in these groups. Not only is there an improvement in cognition but also in mood (Olazarán et al. 2010).
Rehabilitation and Alzheimer’s disease : a necessity
Alzheimer’s most well-known symptom is the progressive deterioration of memory, but this is just the beginning. Cognitive functioning will also progressively be compromised and processes such as language, attention, visuospatial skills or executive functioning will experience significant deterioration.
Deterioration in cognitive function is clearly visible in the daily life of the person, who is also gradually losing his/her abilities to deal with everyday challenges. Only a few years can go between forgetting a random word and not being able to feed oneself.
Rehabilitation is a response to the needs of a population of patients already exceeding 36 million worldwide. Rehabilitation aims to enable people with cognitive impairments to achieve their “optimum level of physical, psychological and social function” (McLellan, 1991 cited in Clare L, Woods RT, Cook, Orrell M & Spector A, 2003). In individuals with Alzheimer’s, the meaning of “optimum” varies greatly from one stage to another. However, there are goals and cognitive rehabilitation aims specifically to achieve the highest possible level of functioning for patients according to their own capabilities.
Cognitive rehabilitation for people with Alzheimer’s? Yes!
Yes, cognitive rehabilitation can be conducted on individuals with Alzheimer’s even though some people insist on using theory to avoid the use of this term in the field of dementia.
Cognitive rehabilitation for people with Alzheimer’s becomes an essential tool in daily functioning. While cognitive stimulation is a generalized approach that targets all cognitive processes, and can be conducted on healthy people, cognitive rehabilitation involves a person with a deficit and brain training to improve functioning in the everyday life. Cognitive stimulation aims at improving memory, while cognitive rehabilitation helps you remember your daughter’s phone number. The first one is nonspecific, the second, more specialized.
Many refute that cognitive rehabilitation involves relearning a lost skill or function, something very difficult in Alzheimer’s and other diseases that present with dementia. However, cognitive rehabilitation also involves relying on what is preserved to help the person develop strategies to function under new conditions.
When conducting cognitive rehabilitation on people with Alzheimer’s just remember to take into account:
- Cognitive rehabilitation always involves an individualized program. Group sessions are not recommended. Platforms like NeuronUP have options for cognitive rehabilitation to be as personalized and specific as possible.
- Goals must be realistic, specific, achievable, and time-limited (Kelly y O’Sullivan, 2015). An example of a goal might include remembering the names of family members.
- The level of assistance is very important in order to avoid frustration and withdrawal from the task. Provide enough assistance, since more effort means more effectiveness.
- Errorless learning can be a good technique to avoid frustration: remind the individual to say so whenever they don’t know the answer, so that the therapist or a family member can provide the individual with a cue or prompt.
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