What are the Different Types of Dementia Therapy?

D. Waldman

There is no cure for dementia, but there are several forms of dementia therapy which may help alleviate or eliminate some of the symptoms the illness can cause. The most common types of dementia therapy in use are prescription drug therapy, occupational therapy, music therapy, and reminiscence therapy.

Prescription drug and occupational therapy are among the most common types of dementia therapy.
Prescription drug and occupational therapy are among the most common types of dementia therapy.

Dementia is the impairment or loss of skills and abilities often associated with the frontal lobe of the brain—these may include memory, speech, cognitive ability, and attention span. Prescription drugs are most often used as a form of dementia therapy in the earlier stages of the disease. The majority of the approved drugs being used to treat dementia are called cholinesterase inhibitors. They work to decrease the speed at which the levels of acetylocholine in the brain are depleted, as this chemical component is critical for proper functioning of cognitive abilities. Once the dementia begins to progress more rapidly, the drugs slowly begin to lose their effectiveness and are no longer a viable form of dementia therapy.

Some assisted living facilities specialize in caring for seniors with dementia.
Some assisted living facilities specialize in caring for seniors with dementia.

Occupational therapy focuses on teaching patients with dementia how to carry out basic daily tasks. This form of dementia therapy is often used during the middle stages of the illness once knowledge of these everyday activities has begun to fade. By continuing to reinforce simple tasks, such as personal hygiene, housekeeping, and cooking, it allows the patient to still have some semblance of leading an independent life, even though it may be in an assisted living facility. It can also help to ease the burden on family members who may be caring for the individual.

Spending time with family can keep memories alive for dementia patients.
Spending time with family can keep memories alive for dementia patients.

The third type of dementia therapy involves the use of music to stimulate certain areas of the brain. While many of the skills and abilities that dementia impacts are controlled by the left side of the brain, music is one of the few things that uses the entire brain for processing. The use of music as a form of therapy or even communication can help keep the unaffected areas of the left side of the brain active, while also keeping the right side of the brain functioning as sharply as possible. It is said that in many cases, there are certain portions of the right side of the brain that, when stimulated correctly, can begin to learn some of the simple tasks that were once housed in the damaged left side.

Dementia can affect a patient's spouse just as much as the person with the condition.
Dementia can affect a patient's spouse just as much as the person with the condition.

Reminiscence therapy relies on the fact that, even though dementia can impact memory, there are still ways to help re-trigger those memories to help keep them intact. This type of dementia therapy relies on nearly all of the senses when in practice. Anything from playing a cherished song, watching old home videos, or cooking a favorite meal can help patients suffering from dementia keep memories from their past alive. This form of dementia therapy is also popular because it typically involves family members and other close friends of the patient in the therapy process itself.

Reading is a good way to stay mentally active, which is important for managing dementia.
Reading is a good way to stay mentally active, which is important for managing dementia.
Some people with dementia reside in an assisted living center  where they can be monitored on a regular basis.
Some people with dementia reside in an assisted living center where they can be monitored on a regular basis.

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Discussion Comments

anon192328

I am a music therapist and can attest to the fact that music therapy can be effective in helping a person with dementia. I have seen persons who no longer spoke or rarely spoke sing along with me on a favorite hymn and song from their youth.

A woman I worked with some years ago rarely made eye contact with anyone and had not spoken a word in months. I sang a favorite song of children and adults and she looked at me, began to smile and then sang along on the chorus. When we finished I asked her if she sang the song to her children when they were little and she said yes. It was a beautiful moment.

I believe music does have the power to heal. And it can certainly improve quality of life for persons with a diagnosis of dementia.

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