What is the best way to restore calm to dementia patients? This was the subject of an interesting study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Dementia is a challenge to the patient, and for family members and caregivers. The patient experiences increasing loss of cognitive thinking skills and has progressive memory problems. Together with that, the patient loses their sense of calm on occasion.
Dementia patients are treated with medication and also with non-medicinal approaches. The study compared the effectiveness of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment for calming agitated dementia patients.
Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Symptoms
In order to treat dementia patients with medication, the symptoms of dementia are often divided into issues that come from an affect thinking – cognitive symptoms – and issues that that affect emotions and behavior – non-cognitive symptoms.
The symptoms of dementia are many, and there are different types of dementia. Symptoms may differ between individuals.
Cognitive symptoms of dementia include:
- Loss of memory, forgetfulness
- Sense of direction not working, Disorientation
- Difficulty with activities of daily living, personal care
- Motor-coordination failure
- Misidentifications, confusing identity
- Delusions, judgement skills weak
- Reduced language abilities
Non-cognitive symptoms of dementia include:
- Behavioral changes
- Mood changes
- Sleep disturbance
- Aggressive behavior
Which Symptoms Disturb More?
Dr. Keith Fargo, of the Alzheimer’s Association reviewed the study. He said that often the non-cognitive symptoms, such as agitation and aggression, are often more disruptive and problematic than the cognitive symptoms. Family life is disturbed by it.
There is a need for treatment that effectively helps with those symptoms.
Medication is not always the answer. People don’t feel comfortable to medicate a loved one into calm silence. In addition to that, many medications have risks and side effects. Using medication to combat the side effects of other medication can get complicated.
Dr. Fargo pointed out, that it really has to do with understanding the needs of the dementia patient. The lack of an ability to communicate effectively for patients could cause them to become agitated and unsettled.
Treatments – Pharmacological and Non-Pharmacological
Interestingly, the study had findings that non-pharmacological treatments were more effective for calming agitated patients. The study analyzed a group of 163 previous studies, with a total of 23,000 participants. Of the comparative studies, some incorporated pharmacological treatment and non-pharmacological strategies. This article looks at the non-pharmacological treatments and findings.
A selection of Non-Pharmacological Treatments
The results of the most effective methods are presented below:
- Calming Agitated or Aggressive Patients – Outdoor activities
- Verbal Aggression – Therapy using massage and touch, Outdoor activities
- Physical Aggression – Exercising, Activities of Daily Living modified to meet patients’ needs
Dr. Jennifer Watt, author of the study, suggests other simple strategies that can calm people with dementia:
- Listening to music with headphones
- Going outdoors
- Recreational therapy
- Activities that stimulate cognitive abilities
- Making their environment pleasant – such as hanging photos that bring back pleasant memories
Dr. Watt says that people who are caregiving need to come to terms with what they can contribute. They can do the best that they can with the time and financial resources they have.
It is not always possible to use non-pharmacological treatments. A caregiver who has or receives the resources, knows what is best for the patient.
According to the study, the most effective treatment to restore calm to dementia patients, is that of the non-pharmacological type.