Group therapy to combat dementia

Recently, Raj has been noticing significant changes in his father’s life. His ability to recollect familiar persons and environment has been evidently compromised. The toughest part in life is seeing your loved one’s not recognising you.

Talking to his colleagues about his father’s rapidly changing situation, Raj realised that Smitha’s father had had a similar sequence of events one year back. On the quest of finding a possible cause and solution to fix, the conversation introduced him to the word “dementia”, it’s progression to different phases and possible ways to recover. Most interesting was the way individuals with similar condition were teamed together for group therapy, only to make the recovery quicker and joyful.

Dementia is a group of symptoms with impairment in memory, ability to think, communicate and visually perceive to an extent of impairing normal functioning of daily activities. There are multiple causes and different stages of dementia. A neurological condition like Alzheimer’s disease is the common cause for dementia across the world. While not that common, Parkinson’s disease and traumatic brain injuries are other possible reasons for dementia. While ageing might have some issues with general memory, other cognitive functions might not have been impacted significantly to hamper the performance of daily activities.

Where to start?

Good clinical history and examination is the first step to diagnose dementia. Base evaluation by multidisciplinary rehabilitation therapists including physician, physiotherapist, nurse, dietician, occupational therapist, speech therapists and psychologist will help in designing a personalised rehab programme. Duration and frequency of one-to-one sessions and group therapy sessions can be determined after comprehensive assessment.

The impact of dementia on an individual can quite often transcend the physical changes visible in his body. The biochemical changes occurring in the brain as a result of the progressive nervous disorder can lead to several mental illnesses, including depression and social anxiety disorder. It is only natural to see one becoming suddenly indifferent to his near and dear ones. The fear of social isolation can worsen and could lead to chronic aloofness, if one doesn’t speak up his mind and seek the necessary support. What can be more therapeutic than swapping stories with those who are undergoing or have overcome the same difficulties? Group therapy has thus been found to be one of the most powerful treatment interventions of patients with dementia.

Why does it work?

Group Therapy is a process in psychotherapy to bring people with similar medical conditions together, in order to help find better ways to cope by describing and discussing their problems. People who are navigating through similar circumstances can better relate to each other’s situations and offer great handholding. Not being judgmental is the prerequisite to retain the core value of group therapy. This significantly improves the overall confidence in an individual to handle the new limitations and foster better understanding of the disease.

Most patients with dementia suffer from speech impairment. Speech therapy can be of great help here. One won’t need the help of a translator to speak out when he is in a group that is accommodative of his inadequacies. Attending group therapy sessions periodically has consequently improved communication skills and clarity of speech in many. Often, one of the family members or close aide is involved in speech therapy sessions to help perform extended sessions, in the absence of therapists.

While group therapy on its own is not a complete treatment procedure for dementia, it can significantly improve the quality of lives in patients when combined with personalised rehab sessions by respective therapists.

For full benefits
One can reap the complete benefits of group therapy by attending sessions conducted by multidisciplinary rehab therapies, the likes of which are routinely conducted in in-patient rehabilitation centres. There are few short duration programmes that are conducted as daycare activities in an outpatient facility.
In addition to multidisciplinary therapies, music therapy, art therapy and dance therapies are often paired to enhance cognitive abilities in dementia patients. Dedicated resources, consistent sessions and committed participation have a tremendous value in bringing the best results in combating dementia. Often seen, care givers and family members also have a beneficial effect while participating in group therapy programmes.

In addition to multidisciplinary therapies, music therapy, art therapy and dance therapies are often paired to enhance cognitive abilities in dementia patients. Dedicated resources, consistent sessions and committed participation have a tremendous value in bringing the best results in combating dementia. Often seen, care givers and family members also have a beneficial effect while participating in group therapy programmes.

–Dr. Vijay Janagama, Director, New Initiatives, SuVitas Holistic Healthcare

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