Occupational Therapy and Dementia: Finding the Person Not the Patient

New findings from the Alzheimer’s Association Family Dynamics Survey, released June 2017, revealed that while people overwhelmingly agree that “it takes a village” to provide care for someone living with dementia, 91% of caregivers feel they are doing it alone. The survey further identified that caring for someone with Alzheimer’s has the potential to bring families together, but more often it tears families apart. Seventy four percent of those surveyed admitted they would prefer a paid caregiver. Confirming the swelling demand for memory care communities, the study also alarmed experts with the reality that many are reluctant to place loved ones in the care of paid providers.

Memory care communities across the United States offer consumers increasingly luxurious atmospheres most recently incorporating five-star amenities such as technology enhanced living spaces, movie theaters, ice cream parlors, swimming pools, and high-end dining experiences with sous chefs, menus, and wait staff. Such developers demonstrate the courage and effort required to support the “build it and they will come” theory, only to be disappointed because this elusive and complex disease cannot be effectively managed through a model of entertainment. Lacking the necessary foundation and dementia expertise, organizations find themselves tracking a moving target as best practices evolve and competitors build revolutionary accommodations, often outdated even before they open. What families discover is that these expensive, beautiful environments, so well marketed to cognitively-intact caregivers, cannot satisfy the needs of an individual with dementia.

Occupational therapy practitioners have the skill set necessary to support advancement of memory care communities through developing opportunities for residents to achieve purpose and meaning in life. Utilization of The Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process, 3rd Ed. provides an organized systematic approach integrating client factors, performance skills and patterns, and context necessary to offer a meaningful, successful, active environment for each individual resident. The foundation of successful memory care programming lies in the ability to stimulate meaningful, active engagement in life that provides continued growth, development and life-satisfaction for the Elder, a mission in perfect harmony with the unique offerings of the occupational therapy profession.

Written By:

Dana Dunbar-Leavitt, MOT, OTR/L, CLT, MBDP, CDP, CADDCT, CDCM

American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(Suppl. 1.), S1-S48.

About the Alzheimer’s and Family Dynamics Survey

The Alzheimer’s Association commissioned a 15-minute online survey among a sample of n=1,502 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. Respondents were split into three groups including 250 currently giving care to someone with Alzheimer’s, 252 previously having given care to someone with Alzheimer’s and 1,000 having never given care. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 3.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. The survey was fielded between April 19 and April 25, 2017. For more information, please call the Alzheimer’s Association media line at 312-335-4078 or reach out via email at media@alz.org.

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