How Occupational Therapy Can Help Treat Dementia

senior in occupatoinal therapy for dementia

Dementia is defined as the loss of cognitive functioning caused by physical changes in the brain.  The specific symptoms of dementia differ from person to person, but they’ll typically involve problems with any combination of the following:

  • Short-term memory
  • Concentration
  • Language
  • Reasoning 
  • Problem solving
  • Spatial awareness
  • Orientation to date and time
  • Mood and personality changes

Dementia is a progressive condition that has no cure, but occupational therapy can provide interventions that preserve remaining function and even help slow the decline.  

How occupational therapy can help treat dementia

The role of an occupational therapist in the treatment of dementia is to help prolong independence in day-to-day activities.  While caregivers and family members often think about what a person with dementia can’t do, the dementia occupational therapist focuses on strengthening what the person can do. The first step is to evaluate the patient’s strengths, impairments, and areas of need. Next, the occupational therapist will identify goals and create a plan of actions, activities, and interventions designed to preserve functioning and maximize quality of life. An

occupational therapy care plan may include: 

  • Memory aids – Calendars, medication reminders, or daily schedules posted on the wall may be all that’s needed to support memory function in the early stages of dementia.  Some patients may need to be reminded to eat or use the bathroom, and an occupational therapist can help provide interventions in these areas, too. 
  • Environmental modifications – Eliminating clutter and installing grab rails help decrease the risk of falls. Cushions on chairs can help raise the seat height to make eating at the table more comfortable. Nightlights in hallways and reflector tape on the floor or walls can help light the way to the bathroom at night. Occupational therapy often employs environmental modifications like these to enhance safety, security, and comfort.  
  • Physical exercise – Dancing, walking around the block, and doing simple yoga poses are all examples of fun exercises an occupational therapist might use to help promote optimal wellness in patients with dementia. Physical exercise helps to maintain blood flow to the brain, and enhances muscle control, coordination, strength, flexibility, and balance, supporting patient safety and everyday functioning. 
  • Fun – One crucial element of the occupational therapy assessment is the discovery of what the patient loves to do. Whether that’s singing, painting, doing crossword puzzles, or playing with grandchildren, a skilled occupational therapist will incorporate these meaningful activities into the care plan.  Time spent doing enjoyable activities will have a profound impact on anyone’s quality of life, including people with dementia. 
  • Caregiver and family education– In their eagerness to help, family members and caregivers can negatively impact the patient’s functioning by performing their activities of daily living (dressing, eating and grooming) for them, rather than helping them do it for themselves.  An occupational therapist will spend time educating family and caregivers on how to best provide support that empowers and prolongs patient independence.

Occupational therapy for dementia treatment in San Diego

At Bella Vista Health Center, our occupational therapists are highly skilled and trained to help preserve functioning and maximize quality of life for all patients, including those with dementia. If you’re seeking occupational therapy for the treatment of dementia, we invite you to come visit our 5-star skilled nursing facility in Lemon Grove today.