According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 5.5 million Americans are now living with the disease, and it is estimated that 16 million people will be living with Alzheimer’s by the year 2050. While deaths from heart disease have decreased by 14% since 2000, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased by 89%. It is also interesting to note that 35% of caregivers (family and friends) of Alzheimer’s or other dementia patients report that their own health has declined compared to 19% of caregivers of older people with no dementia.
Clearly, we have a crisis on our hands — not just for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, but for their caretakers as well.
A person with dementia can be said to be inhabiting a different world with a different reality than the rest of us. Habilitation Therapy (HT) tells us that they cannot leave there to be with us, no matter how much we may want them to. (Alzheimer’s Association, 2011) It is the job of care partners to be with that person by traveling to their world. This is done by understanding what they are experiencing, and respecting — never negating — their experience.
Unfortunately, according to the article, most people with ADRD (Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia) are not treated with Habilitation Therapy, but rather with the outdated “Reality Therapy” which tries to bring the patient back into our world. I suggest reading the article for details, but suffice it to say “Reality Therapy” does not appear to be beneficial for either the patient or caregiver.
Well-being and Health for People with Dementia (WHELD) combines the most effective elements of existing approaches to develop a comprehensive but practical staff training intervention. This optimised intervention is based on a factorial study and qualitative evaluation, to combine: training on person-centred care, promoting person-centred activities and interactions, and providing care home staff and general practitioners with updated knowledge regarding the optimal use of psychotropic medications for persons with dementia in care homes.
The study was conducted on patients living in nursing homes and found that compared to those having typical care, patients with moderately severe dementia who received WHELD showed a significant improvement in their quality of life, agitation, and neuropsychiatric symptoms. Those with mild to moderate dementia or those with severe dementia did not see these significant changes. It is interesting to note that intervention with WHELD actually cost less than typical care, and saved roughly $6,600 over the nine-month trial period.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias will be out of our lives anytime soon. So we need more research and we need to be aware of and open to evidence-based treatments that work. The cost of Alzheimer’s and related dementias, in dollars and well-being, is staggering. Let’s educate ourselves and insist on proper treatment for those we love, so that we can best help all those whose lives are affected by these challenging diseases.