Group therapy delays progression of dementia

Dementia describes a set of progressive neurodegenerative symptoms resulting in   serious impairment of cognitive ability beyond what might be expected from the normal ageing process. Several conditions and diseases may cause dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia mainly affects people over the age of 65 and the prevalence of this condition in our ageing population is increasing. Estimates suggest a global dementia prevalence of 24.3 million, with 4.6 million new cases of dementia every year. This number is speculated to double every 20 years to 81.1 million cases by 2040. Currently, there are no preventative or curative treatments for dementia, although medications (e.g. acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor blockers) are usually prescribed to treat the behavioural and cognitive symptoms of dementia. There is therefore a real need for further research into the treatment of this debilitating condition.

In an article published by BMC Medicine, Elmar Graessel and colleagues, tested the impact of a non-pharmacological intervention on patients from five nursing homes in Bavaria, Germany. All patients suffered from mild to moderate dementia, and maintained their normal treatment and regular activities provided by the nursing home throughout the study. Half of the patients were randomly selected for the therapy sessions.

The intervention had a striking effect. The sessions consisted of participation in two hours of group therapy a day, six days a week, and combined physical activity (including playing sports and balancing exercises), cognitive tasks (such as individual and group puzzles) and active discussion. One year later, those who took part in the intervention were shown to have postponed their decline in cognitive function. In addition, they were able to maintain their ability to carry out daily activities, unlike those who just received usual care. Remarkably, this intervention appears to be as effective as anti-dementia drugs at stabilizing cognitive function. These results may encourage greater social participation and activity within a nursing home environment to stave off the effects of dementia.

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