There are more than 350,000 Australians with dementia. By 2050 that figure is expected to rise to almost 900,000.
While there is currently no cure for dementia there are a growing number of therapies that can help improve quality of life for those living with the condition.
These are some innovative developments that could change how we treat dementia.
1. Virtual reality
Computer game developers are working with dementia research organisations to see how virtual reality can be used in dementia care to stimulate the senses.
The idea is to create a digital world that people with dementia can enter by wearing a virtual reality headset. A prototype creates a virtual forest with chirping and butterflies zooming past. The user can even interact with the surroundings. For example, the user’s arm movement can trigger a reaction from a virtual butterfly.
When Alzheimer’s Australia Victoria put it to the test, a dementia patient that normally wouldn’t communicate verbally, ‘lit up’ and started talking.
Virtual reality has also been used to simulate the experience of dementia so family members and carers and walk a (virtual) mile in the shoes of someone living with dementia.
Music has a special ability to wedge its way into our memory for a very long time.
That’s why you might find a trolley of iPods being wheeled around a dementia care facility. Personalised playlists, like those used in the Music and Memory program, are designed to unlock memories and emotions.
Such personalised music programs are already widespread in the United States (as seen in the documentary Alive Inside) and there’s research to suggest they can reduce medication levels in dementia care.
Most simply, someone’s favourite music can bring joy into their daily routine when it might otherwise lack stimulation.
It sounds simple but engaging a person with dementia in telling stories about the past can be a very powerful therapy.
There are programs for group reminiscence sessions but it’s also something family members and friends can do with their loved ones. Family photos and other memorabilia can be used to enhance the experience.
The opportunities for this life story work are growing and according to the Alzheimer’s Society (UK) “there is evidence that life story and reminiscence work, particularly when done one-on-one, can improve mood, wellbeing and some mental abilities such as memory.”
Advice for families can be found on the Alzheimer’s Australia website.