From Mary S. Mittelman, Dr.P.H. and Laura N. Gitlin, Ph.D., writers for the Huffington Post:
“It’s been a tough year for anyone who cares about people with Alzheimer’s disease. A National Institutes of Health panel surveyed all existing research and concluded that there is no cure or long-term treatment, at least for now. Eli Lilly suspended clinical trials for its once promising drug Semagacestat because it was actually making patients worse.
Even supposed good news — the discovery of a biomarker and a brain scan that can predict Alzheimer’s disease with a reasonable degree of certainty — got a mixed reception. Many questioned why anyone would want to know they would eventually get a debilitating fatal brain disease if so little can be done.
Yet something can be done. There are treatments available right now that most families coping with Alzheimer’s or other dementia never hear about, but which can significantly improve their quality of life. We can help families stay together longer, and have happier lives.
Called non-pharmacologic therapies (NPTs) or psychosocial interventions, these treatments do not come in a pill. Instead, treatments such as personal counseling and occupational therapy-based strategies support families and teach them the skills they need to protect their own health and cope with the intense demands of caregiving, while helping people with dementia stay independent and safe for as long as possible.
Improving quality of life for individuals with dementia and their families is a fundamental treatment goal, but consistently receives far less attention and funding than drug research. The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving states that there are proven programs which are actually more effective than any known drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and adds, “to not make them widely available to caregivers is shortsighted and a violation of the best principles of public health.”
There are a growing number of such non-pharmacologic interventions, two of which we developed. One example, developed at New York University Langone Medical Center, includes comprehensive assessment, individual and family counseling to reduce conflict and improve communication among family members, and additional counseling by telephone. People caring for a spouse with dementia who received the NYU Caregiver Intervention were more satisfied with social support and consequently less depressed, less bothered by difficult behaviors, had better physical health and were able to keep their ill spouses at home longer than those receiving usual care.”
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