There’s lots of misunderstanding about dementia. Dementia is commonly misunderstood as one disease, but dementia is not one specific disease, it is a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour, memory, orientation, and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Brain function is affected enough to interfere with the person’s life. Occupational Therapists often focus on the intricate relationship between the person, their environment, and meaningful or purposeful occupations for those living with dementia. For individuals with dementia, cognitive impairment impacts sensory processing and motor planning, resulting in a decreased ability to function in daily activities. There are various types of dementia and each of them has their own cause.

In 2019, it was the second leading cause of death. And in 2021, it was estimated that between 386,200 and 472,000 Australians are living with dementia. There are over 100 types but the most common types of dementia are:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Dementia With Lewy Bodies
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Korsakoff’s syndrome

The Role Of An Occupational Therapist

Occupational Therapists, through their expertise in activity analysis, address those living with dementia as a condition that affects occupational performance. Through assessment, Occupational Therapists determine an individual’s strengths, impairments, and performance areas which require intervention.

An Occupational Therapist’s role within dementia care can include:

Health promotion: Assisting individuals to maintain strength and abilities by promoting maximal performance in preferred occupations for as long as possible before task modification is required.

Modification and maintenance: An Occupational Therapist can promote safe and supportive environments for clients to participate in meaningful occupations, for as long as possible, while reducing dependence on caregivers through adaptation and compensatory interventions such as verbal, visual, and physical cues, assistive devices, and environmental adaptations including fall prevention strategies.

Remediation: Remediation is the process of restoring a skill or ability that is impaired. Although the remediation of cognitive skills is not likely in dementia care, Occupational Therapists can incorporate routine exercise into their interventions to improve the performance of activities of daily living and functional mobility, and to help restore or maintain range of motion, strength, and endurance.

Sensory profiling: Sensory stimulation interventions aim to increase a person’s quality of life by stimulating the senses, increasing alertness, helping control behaviour, reducing agitation, and helping them feel safe and supported in their given environment.

Education and training: Occupational Therapists educate on all of the above, along with the use of effective methods of communication, causes, and strategies to manage or prevent challenging behaviours.

Case Study – How Sensory Profiling Helped Rowena

Rowena is an elderly resident living with dementia in a memory support unit at a residential aged care home. She was known for displaying paranoid behaviour and becoming agitated with care staff and other residents.

Our Plena Healthcare Occupational Therapist was introduced to Rowena and underwent an initial assessment inclusive of a sensory profile. The Occupational Therapist recommended an individualised sensory intervention plan to reduce Rowena’s agitation and environmental distress. The intervention strategies focused on calming Rowena once distressed and preventative behaviour escalation strategies.

The strategies included:

  • Reducing clutter in common environments
  • Consistent and regular day to day routines
  • Providing meaningful tasks aligned to her her interests
  • Regular massage therapy for pain management
  • Increased access to spending time outdoors
  • Avoiding large groups and over cluttered environments
  • Regular opportunities to spend time with her dog

The individualised sensory intervention and person-centred treatment plan had a positive impact on Rowena, as well as the staff of the aged care home. Occupational Therapists utilising sensory profiles in residential aged care settings can have significant impact on the way care staff manage behaviours without the use of medication and create a relaxed and happy environment for clients, improving their quality of life.

Each person and type of dementia needs to be assessed and treated differently. Occupational Therapists have a unique skill set and can positively impact the lives of people with dementia and their surrounding supports.

Interaction and connection between health professionals is crucial to achieve the best outcome, which is why our Occupational Therapists assist in creating a holistic care plan in collaboration with other allied health professionals. Although most types of dementia are degenerative, allied health professionals have a key role to play in slowing the disease and lessening the impact on a person’s life.

If you think a loved one can benefit from the assistance from our aged care and community Occupational Therapists, get in touch by clicking ‘Contact Us’ above or by giving us a call on 136 033.