Memory Therapy for Dementia: What It Offers Patients

Memory Therapy for Dementia: What It Offers Patients

One of the hallmark symptoms of dementia is a decline in cognitive function. Patients suffer from more than just memory loss; they also struggle with communication, learning, decision making, and problem solving.

If you have dementia, you may struggle to find the right word in a conversation, forget the names of everyday objects, or struggle to recognize the faces of people you know well. As your abilities decline, you may feel frustrated, embarrassed, and less confident. While it’s tempting to withdraw and isolate yourself due to these feelings, we encourage you to embrace life with all the gusto you can muster. Dementia is not something to be embarrassed about; it’s a change that many adults experience and isn’t something you can control.

While dementia can’t be reversed, its progress can be slowed down, especially with the help of appropriate therapy. The aim of therapy is to ensure you remain confident, sociable, and happy for as long as possible.

The best type of therapy to address these cognitive issues is called memory therapy (also called cognitive therapy). It’s more effective during the early stages of dementia, but it can be adapted as your symptoms become more evident and the disease progresses. In this article, we’ll look at the following:

Neural Effects uses the latest evidence-based techniques to diagnose and help dementia patients. We are located in Provo, Utah, and serve anyone in Salt Lake City or the Utah Valley area. We are in-network for most types of medical insurance. Schedule your evaluation today.

How Can Memory Therapy Help Dementia Patients?

Memory therapy for dementia helps to preserve cognitive function and build social confidence.

Memory therapy is an umbrella term for therapies that challenge brain function, including cognitive therapy (or cognitive stimulation therapy), reminiscence therapy, and occupational therapy. Cognitive therapy stimulates cognitive function; reminiscence therapy engages long term memory and can provide a mood post for the patient; occupational therapy brings strategies to cope with symptoms and extend independence.

We’ll explore each in this section.

Stimulating Exercises to Boost Cognitive Function and Delay Progression of the Disease

During the early stages of dementia (including mild cognitive impairment, aka MCI, and moderate dementia), memory therapy involves a set of strategies aimed at improving cognitive abilities and executive functions such as memory, attention, problem solving, language, reasoning, and planning, among others.

Studies show this approach can help memory and thinking skills in dementia patients, as well as improve quality of life. Some carers and family members also reported improvements in language and an increased willingness for dementia patients to join in conversations.

Therapists can use a wide range of activities to stimulate thinking and memory and to establish connections with others. Some examples include:

  • Discussing current news and events

  • Playing computer or board games

  • Engaging in practical activities such as baking (which involves measuring ingredients and following a recipe)

  • Solving riddles and quizzes

  • Remembering sequences of numbers or words both in order and in reverse order

  • Reading a text or looking at an image and answering questions about it

Reminiscing About the Past

Even though dementia patients may struggle with short-term memory, they usually hold on to their long-term memories, especially those involving important events. Reminiscing about these past events can improve memory, stimulate mental activity, and improve well-being.

This type of therapy — called reminiscence therapy — involves discussing past memories, often supported by videos, music, pictures, and objects that may have a particular meaning for the patient. For example, if you have always enjoyed traveling, looking at photos from places you visited in the past can bring back enjoyable memories.

Studies show that reminiscence therapy can help dementia patients fight symptoms of low mood and depression by focusing on happy and rewarding aspects of their past. It also gives them a sense of confidence through using a skill they still have. Possible topics include childhood and early memories, pets, family, music, and favorite (or most hated!) foods, among many others.

Developing Strategies to Cope with Symptoms

As dementia progresses, patients develop more pronounced symptoms. They may show a more significant decline in memory and overall cognitive function, and they may start to struggle to complete basic activities of daily living (ADLs), including dressing, bathing, or going to the toilet, on their own.

At this stage, therapists shift their focus from activities to slow cognitive decline to interventions that help patients cope with cognitive symptoms so they can maintain their independence for longer. Over the past few years, there have been many research studies showing this to be an effective way to help dementia patients. These strategies reduce aggression and other behavioral symptoms while improving quality of life and social participation.

The aim is to help patients and their families set realistic and meaningful goals for daily functioning — using the patient’s strengths and abilities as a way to compensate for areas of deficit. Some people wish to find ways of staying independent, for example, by relearning how to use household appliances or mobile phones, while others want to develop strategies to ensure that they don’t burn their food when cooking meals.

Some examples of strategies used at this stage include:

  • Assistive speech devices for a person with a speech impairment

  • Calendars and memory tools for patients struggling with short-term memory loss

  • Alarms or lights to get a person’s attention in certain contexts, such as during cooking or when the doorbell rings

  • Using dementia-friendly clocks and labeling doors

In the later stages of dementia, patients will become more dependent on caretakers for most daily activities. This doesn’t mean therapy is no longer helpful. Patients may no longer be able to move independently or hold a conversation, but they will still respond positively to one-to-one attention. Many respond well to holding hands to make a direct connection.

Music therapy, for example, is an excellent way to work with patients with limited communication skills. Musical memories are some of the last memories to go, and dementia patients can still enjoy hearing a particular favorite song. Many people with dementia also respond well to objects that they can cuddle. These can be a source of comfort and security for patients who are feeling vulnerable.  

For late-stage dementia patients, therapists can also provide some support for caregivers regarding safely moving patients from the bed to a chair, for example, as well as suggesting exercise programs and other practices that improve the patient’s quality of life.

Memory Therapy at Neural Effects

Physical movement is helpful for slowing dementia.

At Neural Effects, our patients receive a combination of both cognitive therapy and physical therapy. Studies show that receiving these two types of therapy in combination leads to better results than attending each therapy separately.

Whether you’ve received a dementia diagnosis or are seeking one, you’ll need to undergo a detailed medical examination before treatment. Our clinicians assess cognitive skills such as memory, attention, executive function, and language. After this examination, one of our team members will meet with you and your family to discuss the results and a recommended treatment plan.

If you decide to start treatment with us, you will engage in a variety of therapies to address some of the problems identified during your assessment. Typically, therapy starts with a session of cardio exercise on a stationary bike or treadmill, followed by different activities to improve cognitive functions, such as thinking, attention, memory, language, concentration, and many more.

Our therapists use many different exercises and activities and are trained to adapt each one to your abilities. Some examples include:

  • Playing guess the word. The therapist will think of a four-letter word, which you try to guess by proposing a four-letter word. For example, you might guess, “find.” Next, the therapist will tell you if any of the letters you guessed are correct and whether any were in the right position. (For example, “One correct letter in the wrong position.”) You’ll continue to propose words until you guess the correct one.

  • Reading a short text or looking at a series of images and then answering questions about it. Our therapists can follow up in future sessions to see how much information you retain.

  • Playing a card sorting game, where you have to sort all four suits with the cards facing down. You start the game by memorizing the sequence of suits, then turn the cards down and add each card to the respective matching suits.

Your loved one can accompany you during therapy at our clinic. Our therapists can show both of you how the exercises can be adjusted to your abilities so that you can continue treatment at home. After each session, you will also get a series of exercises to do at home, including physical and cognitive games. Completing these will help to ensure your continued progress.

Neural Effects uses the latest evidence-based techniques to diagnose and help dementia patients. We are located in Provo, Utah, and serve anyone in Salt Lake City or the Utah Valley area. We are in-network for most types of medical insurance. Schedule your evaluation today.

Ways to Reduce Symptom Severity at Home

Couple playing games on a computer.

It’s essential to look after your physical and mental health regardless of your situation, but it’s all the more important when you have dementia. Here are some strategies to use at home to help with your symptoms:

Eat a Brain-Friendly Diet

Poor nutrition may increase behavioral symptoms and cause weight loss for dementia patients, especially as the disease progresses. Dementia patients need to:

  • Eat a variety of foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods.

  • Limit foods with high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.

  • Cut down on refined sugars found in processed foods.

  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

  • Avoid (or at least reduce) alcohol and caffeinated drinks.

Engage in Physical Exercise

Physical exercise is beneficial for both physical and mental health regardless of the type of dementia you have. Some examples include walking, gardening, dancing, or organized sports.

Physical activity is ideal for maintaining strong muscles and flexible joints, which helps dementia patients stay independent for longer. Increased fitness improves the patient’s ability to dress, clean, cook, and perform other daily activities. It also improves cognitive function, helps patients get a better night’s sleep, and provides opportunities for social interactions.  

Some local community or sports centers provide a variety of sessions specially developed for dementia patients, including ball games, seated exercises, tai chi, music, dance, or swimming.

Get Enough Sleep

Problems with sleep are common in patients with dementia, including sleeping during the day only to be awake during the night, or waking up frequently and then struggling to go back to sleep.

Having a routine at bedtime can help, such as listening to calming music before bed, enjoying some quiet reading time, or doing light stretches before turning the lights out. Keep your bedtime and morning alarm as consistent as possible.

Avoid screen time late at night, including TVs, computers, and mobile phones. Also, it helps to keep the bedroom quiet and dark, but a nightlight may help if you need to navigate to the restroom.

Keep Your Brain Active

As described earlier, cognitive training can improve some aspects of memory and thinking. Games, puzzles, and other types of brain activities can all help slow down memory decline and other mental problems. Whatever you decide to do, the aim is to keep your brain active and challenged:

  • Learn something new, such as a second language or a musical instrument.
  • Find a new hobby.
  • Play board games or cards with your friends. Don’t be afraid to try new games.
  • Play crosswords and other puzzles.
  • Play video games.
  • Sign up for local classes geared toward older adults.

Stay Socially Active

Staying connected to your friends and family helps you stay connected mentally. Studies show that patients who interact with others maintain their brain function better than those who don’t.

Keep in touch with old friends or make new ones. If you’re an active person, combine social interaction with physical activity. Or, if you love animals, volunteer your time at the local animal shelter. If you’re struggling with mobility, talk to your friends over the phone or stay at home and reminisce about past events with your loved ones.

Use Devices to Help Your Memory

Many simple everyday items can make a big difference to people with dementia living in their own homes. Examples include:

  • Whiteboards to write shopping lists and reminders.
  • Clocks with large faces that are easy to read.
  • Calendars to keep track of appointments and routines.
  • Boxes for pills with a separate compartment for each day of the week.
    (Note that these are more suitable for patients in the early to middle stages of dementia because the patient needs to know what day of the week it is. For patients with severe dementia, you can provide automatic pill dispensers).

Contact Neural Effects for Dementia Evaluation and Memory Therapy

Some dementia interventions are effective no matter which form of dementia you have. Memory therapy is beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and more. Dementia care is best managed with a team of doctors and therapists who understand the patient’s needs and can work together to provide better healthcare for them.

While we don’t manage medications (such as Donepezil/Aricept, Memantine, Galantamine, and so forth), we do coordinate with your doctors to make sure your therapy is complementary to whatever other treatment you receive. We can also make recommendations for neurology practices, additional local providers of therapy, and neuropsychological interventions as needed.

We are located in Provo, Utah, and serve anyone in Salt Lake City or the Utah Valley area. We are in-network for most types of medical insurance. Schedule your evaluation today.