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Enhancing Autonomy and Well-being: The Role of Occupational Therapy in Addressing Dementia

27 de October, 2023

Dementia, a term that casts a shadow of fear and uncertainty over millions of families worldwide, is an escalating concern. The World Health Organization estimates that globally there are 47.5 million people living with dementia, a number expected to triple by 2050. Portugal currently ranks as the 4th country in the OECD with the highest number of cases per thousand inhabitants, with over 200,000 people estimated to have dementia.

Dementia can manifest in association with various diseases, with Alzheimer’s being the most well-known and frequent. It is characterized by progressive cognitive decline and increasing dependency, with individual and disease-specific progression. The decline in cognitive abilities can lead to challenges in dressing, eating, communicating, and maintaining overall independence. This is where occupational therapy comes into play.

Occupational therapists help prevent, minimize, or resolve issues that interfere with a person’s ability to perform daily activities. Their intervention in dementia aims to maximize performance and autonomy, prevent disability, and maintain skills and occupational roles. This contributes to a better quality of life for both the individual and their caregiver.

One of the primary functions of an occupational therapist in dementia care is the assessment and personalized planning of daily activities. Recognizing that each person’s experience with dementia is unique, their approach must be tailored to the specific needs and abilities of the individual. Through detailed assessment, the occupational therapist identifies strengths and challenges, assisting the person with dementia in regaining or maintaining autonomy and independence in meaningful activities.

Occupational therapy is not limited to symptom management. Its primary goal is to improve the quality of life and well-being of people with dementia. Thus, occupational therapists work to provide a safe and comfortable environment by making necessary modifications to the home and spaces the person uses daily. Simple changes, such as installing handrails, removing loose rugs or cables from the floor, labeling everyday objects, or having a visible calendar in a frequently used location, can make a significant difference for someone with dementia. These adaptations not only ensure safety but also help maintain a sense of familiarity and comfort at home.

Occupational therapists also provide the necessary support to family members and caregivers. Caring for a family member with dementia is emotionally and physically draining, not only due to the constant need for attention, which often generates feelings of overwhelm but also due to the insecurity in caregiving. Occupational therapists support family members and caregivers by teaching communication strategies and promoting autonomy, as well as assisting in reorganizing daily routines throughout the different stages of the disease.

Through their intervention, occupational therapists contribute to preserving the dignity and sense of identity of people with dementia. As the world faces an aging population and an exponential increase in dementia cases, the importance of the role of occupational therapists should be recognized, not only by the scientific community but also by people with dementia, family members, and caregivers who can benefit from their intervention.

Joana Pinto

Occupational Therapist

CNS – Campus Neurológico