Personalised therapy can help people in the early stages of dementia manage everyday tasks and stay independent, according to the findings from a large-scale trial.
The trial, led by Exeter University, found cognitive rehabilitation therapy helped participants retain or re-learn skills that were important to them such as cooking safely, remembering names and using technology.
“Our trial shows that people with early-stage dementia… have the capacity to learn and to improve their skills”
The approach involved a therapist working with the person with dementia and a family carer to identify areas they would like to improve and come up with three key goals.
In all, 475 people took part in a randomised controlled trial across eight different sites in England and Wales.
About half received 10 cognitive rehabilitation sessions over three months, while the other half did not. The group receiving the therapy then took part in four “top-up” sessions over six months.
Findings from the study, presented at the international Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Tuesday, showed those who took part in the therapy made significant progress in the areas they had identified after both the 10-week programme and top-up sessions.
Both participants and carers were happier with the participants’ abilities in these areas, which ranged from using household appliances and remembering to lock the door, to getting money out of a cashpoint and engaging in conversation.
“We are thrilled at the results of this study and look forward to helping this important work”
Dr Ola Kudlicka, who managed the trial, said it showed people in the early stages of dementia could be supported to continue doing key tasks and maintain their interests.
“Contrary to popular belief, our trial shows that people with early-stage dementia, given the right kind of support, have the capacity to learn and to improve their skills,” she said.
The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme.
Lead researcher Professor Linda Clare said the approach could mean people being able to stay in their homes for longer and help cut care costs.
“We now know that cognitive rehabilitation effectively supports people to achieve the everyday goals that matter to them,” she said.
“The next step is to quantify benefits such as whether this approach delays the need for people to go into care homes by supporting them to live independently for longer,” she said. “This could have important financial benefits for social care.”
“The next step is to quantify benefits such as whether this approach delays the need for people to go into care homes”
She said it was also important to look at whether the therapy could be “integrated into how practitioners routinely work”, so more people could access it.
The Alzheimer’s Society, which funded an initial pilot study, is now funding further work that will see researchers can work with NHS and social care providers to adapt the therapy for use in practice.
“The personalised nature of this therapy highlights that everyone with dementia is different and that tailored approaches to care and setting individual goals can show clear benefits,” said the charity’s head of research development, Colin Capper.
“We are thrilled at the results of this study and look forward to helping this important work to move forward and be brought closer to the people who need it,” he said.
The trial involved a number of partner organisations, including the universities of Bangor, Bradford, Cardiff and Manchester; London School of Economics; Kings College London; Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust; Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Foundation Trust; the Research Institute for the Care of the Elderly in Bath; and dementia care specialists Dementia Pal.