Achieving personal goals can help people in the early stages of dementia manage their condition, Alzheimer's Society research published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry has found.

Researchers at Bangor University, Wales found that people who received cognitive rehabilitation felt their performance of daily activities improved. Carers of those receiving the treatment also noted an improvement in their own quality of life.

Cognitive rehabilitation is a treatment where people with dementia work with health professionals to identify personal goals and develop strategies for achieving them. Goals were tailored to the participants' specific needs and included things such as remembering details of jobs to be done around the house, maintaining concentration when cooking, learning to use a mobile phone and remembering the names of people at an exercise class. The cognitive rehabilitation group said they saw an improvement in their ability to carry out all of the chosen activities.

The trial compared eight weekly individual sessions of cognitive rehabilitation with relaxation therapy and no treatment. As well as setting and working on goals the cognitive rehabilitation group also learnt and practised techniques for taking in new information, managing stress and maintaining attention and concentration.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Society, says,

'This valuable piece of research is the first trial of its kind to evaluate the effectiveness of the 'cognitive rehabilitation' technique. The exciting findings indicate that achieving personal goals can help people with dementia feel more independent, more confident doing everyday tasks and more in control of their lives. The findings provide a basis for a larger study of cognitive rehabilitation as a means of assisting people in the early stages of dementia and their families to better manage the condition.'

'A million more people will develop dementia in the next ten years. In order to enable people with dementia to live well with the condition we need more funding to further research in this area.'

As well as using feedback from participants and their carers the researchers also used MRI imaging. The brain scanning technology was used to investigate whether the changes in symptoms shown by the participants who received cognitive rehabilitation were reflected in how their brains responded to a memory task.

Professor Linda Clare, who led the research, says,

'We found that the brains of participants who received cognitive rehabilitation did show different responses after the intervention. This suggests that the treatment may have stimulated greater activity in certain brain areas and networks, reactivating some areas that were under-functioning due to the effects of the disease.'

Research reference: Linda Clare et al, Bangor University, Wales 'Goal-orientated Cognitive Rehabilitation for People with Early-stage Alzheimer's Disease: a Single-blind Randomized Control Trial of Clinical Efficacy', American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. The study involved 69 people with Alzheimer's disease or mixed AD and vascular dementia, who were on a course of anti-cholinesterase drugs, and 44 carers.

Alzheimer's Society

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