As the population ages, the number of people living with and managing conditions like dementia and alzheimer’s disease will only increase.
These conditions can have very different causes and effects, but to generalise, they attack the memory, causing a decline in the sufferer’s ability to form new memories, access existing ones and to reason.
Increasingly, occupational therapy jobs will be concerned with helping people adapt to and cope with these conditions, giving advice directly to those suffering with the disease and also discussing changing ways their other carers and relatives can help.
One of the prime responsibilities of an occupational therapist is to maintain the independence of their client or patient for as long as they can. This is the focus of many types of treatment, and also of charities supporting those living with alzheimer’s and related conditions. The therapist can discuss ways to adapt the home so it’s safe and convenient, like installing support bars for the bath and shower, and shut off switches for the oven.
Routines can be established that help guide the patient through their day, extra support and tactics can be developed to allow journeys outside the home and healthcare system. If these allow someone suffering alzheimer’s to go the shops or walk in the park it will help to prevent a growing sense of frustration or helplessness.
Supporting the independence of alzheimer’s and dementia patients lowers stress on the primary caregivers, so occupational therapists also work with carers to devise strategies that allow them to care for their loved ones smarter, rather than harder.
Educational sessions can help carers adapt to the changing needs of someone with dementia, alzheimer’s or related conditions and know what to expect so the progression of the illness is less frightening and overwhelming.
It can be difficult to organise occupational therapy alongside all the other needs of someone suffering with alzheimer’s. Occupational therapists work with GP surgeries and hospitals so you can be referred by your doctor following an appointment. If you feel you are having difficulty coping or need extra support, don’t wait: ask what is available in your area.
Occupational therapy can also be referred by social workers, so contacting your council or local authority to have your home assessed is a useful first step, begins a process of assessment and support than can escalate alongside the progress of the disease.