December 16th, 2011 at 10:52 am
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New ways to slow Alzheimer’s progression?

by Carol Bursack

There are, as yet, no medications that can prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease. Some people do quite well with current drugs that may help slow cognitive decline, but others do not respond well, or they have negative side effects. However, there’s some good news. Science Daily recently covered a study that found mental and spiritual exercises could significantly slow cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease, without any negative side effects.

Slowing Alzheimer’s progression

Led by Prof. Graessel from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen, five nursing homes in Bavaria were selected. Half of the patients were included in the treatment, which lasted a year. The other half lived in the same manner as before. All patients remained in the nursing home.

The study involved the MAKS system, including the following:

M. Motor stimulation. Games and balancing exercises

A. Daily living activities. Arts and crafts, gardening and preparing snacks

K. Cognitive stimulation. Puzzles, both individual and in groups

S. Spiritual elements. Discussing ideas like happiness or singing songs

At the end of the year-long study, the MAKS group maintained their level of cognitive ability. The control group did not. Prof. Graessel explained,

“While we observed a better result for patients with mild to moderate dementia, the result of MAKS therapy on ADAS (cognitive function) was at least as good as treatment with cholinesterase inhibitors. Additionally we found that the effect on the patients’ ability to perform daily living tasks (as measured by the Erlanger Test of Daily Living (E-ADL)) was twice as high as achieved by medication…”

Alzheimer’s treatment: human interaction is important

This study fascinates me because what the researchers have found echoes what people behind culture change in nursing homes have been maintaining for years. Anyone familiar with the work of the Pioneer Network will recognize principals of MAKS therapy reflected in their care philosophy. The Pioneer Network has created expectations among the families of elders that life in a good nursing home includes mental, physical, emotional and spiritual support through human intervention.

It’s good to see a well-documented study adding fuel to the fire of nursing home reform. Providing hands-on care to our aging population, and treating them as individuals who can still participate, learn and enjoy life, is effective. If this common sense approach needs a name and studies to back it up–and it does in order to receive funding for more trials–then the publication of these important study results should have a ripple effect throughout the Alzheimer’s care community.

Human interaction and loving touch will always be needed, no matter what other interventions are discovered. The MAKS therapy underscores this reality.

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