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Study: Occupational Therapy Doesn't Slow Alzheimer's

(Photo: IUPUI)

A new study finds that in-home occupational therapy does not help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.  The study also highlights the need to support caregivers.

The report from the Indiana Center for Aging Research and the Regenstrief Institute studied 180 Alzheimer’s patients and found that two years of occupational therapy did not help brain degeneration and the physical decline that comes with it.

Founding director of the Indiana University Center for Aging Christopher Callahan says the results were disappointing.

“We had reason to believe, based on earlier studies that it would be more effective than it appeared to be,” says Callahan.

"This illness is almost unique in the that the best way to help the patient is to help the caregiver."

The study focused patients living with caregivers in a home setting.

“The hypothesis was that if you could slow the physical decline, maybe they could stay at home longer or be less of a burden to caregivers and maybe not go to a home too early,” says Callahan.

For this study a therapist traveled to participant’s homes and tailored therapy that is useful for patients and caregivers. Techniques ranged from how to facilitate bath time to therapies like gardening, which addresses behavioral issues.

Callahan says even though the study didn’t find a decline in the progression of the disease, therapy can still ease caregiver stress and improve quality of life for patients.

“This illness is almost unique in that the best way to help the patient is to help the caregiver,” Callahan says.

Callahan says more creative therapies, earlier intervention and technology could be useful.  In Indiana, an estimated 334,000 caregivers are caring for more than 100,000 Hoosiers living with Alzheimer’s disease.

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