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Study unpacks benefits of occupational therapy for people with dementia

Australian researchers are raising awareness of the role occupational therapists play in supporting people living with dementia at home following research that showed quality of life benefits.

Associate Professor Sally Bennett from the University of Queensland said occupational therapists help people with dementia and their carers find new ways of doing things and make changes to the environment to help the process.

“Occupational therapy aims to enable people to participate in the things they need to do, like having a shower or cleaning the house, or things they want to do, such as going out to dinner or doing some gardening,” Bennett said.

A review of 15 studies Bennett worked on with Australian and international researchers found a range of benefits, including improvements in the ability to carry out daily activities and reduction in the occurrence of behaviour changes like agitation or repetitive questioning.

The studies largely involved people with moderate stage dementia who commonly received between 8 and 12 hours of multicomponent occupational therapy at home.

Therapists worked with both the person with dementia and their family carer to identify their goals, tailor activities and modify the environment.

As a result of the changes, those in the study saw improvements in quality of life and occupational therapy was reported to reduce the time carers spend assisting the person with dementia.

The authors said referral to occupational therapy for people with moderate stage dementia and their family carers should be considered to support the person’s ability to carry out everyday activities.

But such a change would not be without challenges. The study said scaling up use of occupational therapy in the home would require a well-skilled workforce, and responsive referral and funding models.

“Being as independent as possible and being engaged in enjoyable activities and relationships is important for all of us,” Bennett said.

“Similarly, people with dementia emphasise that there is much more to life than the diagnosis, and that it is possible to live well with dementia.

“Occupational therapy is one way to support this goal.”

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