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Alzheimer’s Disease: Occupational Therapy Helps

by Published On: Aug 29, 2012

by Barb Christensen, Aegis Therapies

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating illness that affects at least 5.4 million Americans, with 1-in-8 older Americans having the disease. Occupational therapists offer treatments that can promote safety and enhance a patient’s quality of life, in addition to providing comfort and care for people with the disease and their families.

Alzheimer’s disease affects people’s personalities, behavior and memory. With occupational therapy, all of these areas can be addressed, depending on the stage of the disease, the setting and the therapy focus.

Finding a Balance: Safety and Independence

Occupational therapists are challenged to create a balance between patient safety and maximum independence. As a result of adding occupational therapy to their care plan, Alzheimer’s patients may see an improvement in the ability to use their cognitive skills, activities of daily living and other activities that help them to be more independent and experience a better quality life for a longer period of time.

In the early stages of the disease, occupational therapy may focus more on compensating for the loss of cognitive abilities and emphasizing remaining abilities. In the later stages of the disease, occupational therapy may focus more on adapting the environment to the patient’s changing needs, and instructing caregivers on the best practices for successfully interacting with and cueing the patient.

The emphasis is on minimizing unwanted behaviors, like agitation or aggression, and avoiding complicating conditions, like weight loss or falls. Safety is always a number-1 priority when dealing with Alzheimer’s patients.

Whatever the stage of Alzheimer’s disease, occupational therapists individualize the plan of care for each person. They also assist with caregiver training, an essential component of a treatment plan, since much of a patient’s time is spent away from therapy.

The ultimate goal of occupational therapy for Alzheimer’s patients is to promote independence, maintain abilities, ensure safety and promote quality of life. Because occupational therapy often increases the time a person is self-sufficient and helps caregivers more effectively perform their tasks, it offers answers and promise for patients, caregivers and doctors.

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