Unusual Strategies to Fight Dementia

In the fight against depression and passivity, which are often symptoms of dementia, activities at OPICA are designed to stimulate residents with activities like dancing.  While caregivers and academics believe that engaging environments help dementia patients cope better, solid evidence for their long-lasting effectiveness is hard to come by, in part because dementia has no cure.  “The idea is to challenge the patient a bit in a positive way,” said Dr. Scherder, a Dutch neuropsychologist, “leaving them in the chair, passive, make the disease progress much faster.”

In recent years, the Netherland’s government has preferred to pay for home care rather than in a licensed facility so most people with dementia live at home. The facilities, which are privately run but publicly funded, are generally reserved for people in an advanced state of dementia.  In the 1990s, the Dutch started thinking differently about how to treat the disease, moving away from a medicalized approach.  “In the ’80s, clients were treated like patients in a hospital,” said Ilse Achterberg, a former occupational therapist, who was one of the pioneers of “snoezel” rooms, which feature light, aroma, massage and sound therapy, and let patients relax and access emotions that are often blocked in stressful clinical settings.  These rooms were the forerunner of some of the techniques found today in many care facilities around the world.

In one home, Willy Briggen, 89 (pictured in the above photo), who is in an advanced stage of dementia sometimes becomes impatient, even unruly. A decade ago, she might have been prescribed drugs or restrained to manage the outbreaks.  But when she gets upset, the staff rolls a squat projector into her room, where it beams out calming images and plays soothing sounds.

Additional creative strategies implemented in the Netherhlands include:

  • Rooms decorated in the style of an era when some of the residents were children;
  • A reproduction of a city bus stop;
  • Riding on a virtual bus with video screens showing the roads and surroundings;
  • Simulated beach scenes help residents take a mini holiday from their daily lives featuring a “beach room” that has real sand on the floor, heat-regulating lamps, and wind and the sound of waves piped in.

To read the full article in the New York Times, click here

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