6 Non-Drug Therapies for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Elderly Woman Holding Glasses with a Book

Posted by Jeff Durish

Thu, Jan 16, 2014

In today’s healthcare landscape there are a wide variety of both pharmaceutical and alternative therapies for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Doctors and neurological specialists have increasingly recognized non-drug related therapies as the type of treatment that should be tried first, using pharmacological solutions as a last resort.

In some cases, doctors may choose to use a combination of drug and non-drug therapies to deliver the best possible care to their patients. Traditional non-drug therapies, such as reality orientation and behavioural therapy, are being used in tandem with exciting new treatments to deliver the best dementia care to Alzheimer’s patients.

Traditional Non-Drug Therapies

Reality Orientation is often administered as a patient-specific program built to improve psychomotor and cognitive function in people who are disoriented and confused. Frequently employed in long-term care facilities, reality orientation uses aids such as clocks, calendars and sensory stimuli (distinctive and familiar sounds, smells, sights) to improve overall sensory awareness. This treatment aims to improve language skills and intellect for severely impaired people and is a common tool in dementia care programs.

Behavioural Therapy focuses on behaviours as well as thoughts and feelings that might be behavioural catalysts. This treatment often looks at specific learned behaviours and the potential impact of environmental factors. Comprised of a wide range of techniques, behavioural therapy breaks down into three main disciplines including applied behaviour analysis, which uses positive reinforcement to modify existing behaviors, social learning theory and cognitive behaviour therapy, which focus on the thoughts and feeling behind mental health conditions.

New Non-Drug Therapies

Cognitive Therapy is used to help patients change dysfunctional thinking and emotional responses and uses direct therapist-to-patient interaction to help the patient develop skills to identify distorted thinking patterns and modify beliefs.

This therapy often involves testing incorrect assumptions and challenging thoughts which may be disruptive or lead to mental illness such as depression. The problem cycle of negative thoughts is analyzed and deconstructed with the therapist helping the patient to realize, for example, that isolated incidents don’t accurately represent a patient’s abilities or self-worth.

Music Therapy is one of the most recent non-drug related treatments to be adopted by popular medicine. Used to help patients improve mental and emotional health, music therapy is a combination of singing, improvisation, discussing, listening, and moving to music to achieve dementia care goals.

Medical referrals for music therapy services are increasingly made by health care professionals. Patients can also pursue music therapy services without a referral or even self-administer in a comfortable and familiar environment.

Multisensory Therapy usually takes place in a specialized room in which patients experience a range of unpatterned olfactory, visual and auditory stimuli as well as tactile interactions. This creates a comfortable and safe environment where patients can relax, explore and enjoy their surroundings. These specialized rooms can vary in appearance and equipment, especially when they are designed for a specific patient’s needs.

Aromatherapy uses a wide variety of aromatic compounds in order to alter a patient’s mood, cognitive function and overall mental and physical health. While aromatherapy has been shown to positively affect a patient’s mental state, while offering some degree of anti-microbial effect’s, it is not clinically proven to improve medical conditions.

As more non-drug therapies are developed and administered by doctors and healthcare professionals, in addition to or instead of drug therapies, people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, along with their families, will enjoy a more complete care plan and a better overall quality of life.


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