Category Archives: Dementia: Working with Changes in Behaviours

How our residential aged-care system doesn’t care about older people’s emotional needs

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Most aged-care residents don’t feel like they are loved or belong in their facility.
from shutterstock.com

Lee-Fay Low, University of Sydney

All humans have fundamental needs. These are physiological (food, drink, clothing, sleep), safety (emotional security, physical safety, health), love and belonging (friendships, community), esteem (respect, dignity) and self-actualisation (accomplishment, personal development).

For people living in Australia’s residential aged-care facilities, these needs are often not met.

Most residents do not feel they are loved or belong in the facility. Like aged-care resident Neda Borenstein, whose secret camera footage broadcast on ABC’s Four Corners showed her singing the Australian national anthem in bed while she waited more than three hours to be changed. “I’m just a number,” Neda told her carer when she finally returned to help her up.

Less than one-third of residents we interviewed said they were friends with another resident. This means most don’t have the social support associated with friendships. Most residents said they felt socially isolated, which is associated with poor well-being.

A 2016 study of residents’ lived experiences in an aged-care facility found many felt they had little dignity, autonomy or control. Outside of meal and structured activity times, people with dementia spend most of their time stationary, alone and doing very little or nothing.

One study looking at interactions between residents and their carers showed residents were alone 40% of the time they were observed. When staff were present, they mostly did not engage verbally, emotionally or physically with the resident.

Aged-care facilities can also feel psychologically unsafe to residents.
Residents with dementia may be locked in secure units or physically restrained, using mechanisms such as bedrails or restraining belts.

Residents sometimes don’t get along. They might argue yell, swear, pinch, hit or push each other. We don’t have good data about how often resident-to-resident verbal and physical aggression happens, but it can result in injury and even death.




Read more:
Violence between residents in nursing homes can lead to death and demands our attention


The consequences of unmet needs?

Residents can react negatively when their needs are not met. They become bored, sad, stressed, cranky, anxious, depressed, agitated, angry and violent.

In people with dementia, we used to call these reactions “behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia” (BPSD). But people with dementia have been pointing out these are normal human responses to neglect, not symptoms of dementia. Almost all (90%) aged-care residents display one or more of these negative reactions.

In many facilities, staff “manage” such reactions with the use of sedating antipsychotic medications. But clinical guidelines recommend looking at the reasons people may be reacting that way and addressing those before medication.




Read more:
Needless treatments: antipsychotic drugs are rarely effective in ‘calming’ dementia patients


Half of nursing home residents have symptoms of depression, and a third have symptoms of anxiety. More than half of residents have been found in studies to behave in ways that might suggest they no longer wish to live. This includes refusing food or medication, one-third of residents having suicidal thoughts and a small number of nursing home residents actually taking their own lives.




Read more:
Too many Australians living in nursing homes take their own lives


Why does Australian aged care fail to meet fundamental human needs?

We might not be spending enough on aged care to enable providers to meet fundamental human needs. Australia spends about 1% of its GDP on long-term care – less than the OECD average of 1.5%.

Private investment in aged care is growing, as have residential aged care profits, but it’s a difficult industry in which to make money. Insufficient funding translates to insufficient staff and less skilled staff. Our funding system rewards dependency, and there are no funding incentives for providers to improve the psychological well-being of residents, or go beyond that to help them flourish.

Friendships are an important part of healthy ageing.
from shutterstock.com

People looking for a nursing home don’t have any independently provided information by which to compare quality or performance.

The National Quality Indicator Program – a program for measuring care in residential aged-care facilities that began in 2016 – was meant to provide information for people trying to compare facilities on clinical indicators of care quality.

But participation in the program is voluntary for providers. Neither quality of life nor emotional well-being indicators are included in the suite of quality indicators (even though one has been trialled and found to be suitable). We also don’t know if or when the data might be published.

What is needed?

We need a fundamental shift in community, government, service provider, staff and regulatory expectations of what residential aged care does. Our model of aged care is mainly about clinical care, while neglecting emotional care.

For instance, friendships are a unique social interaction that facilitate healthy ageing, but many residents told us that the social opportunities in their nursing home did not align with their expectations of friendship.




Read more:
Loneliness is a health issue, and needs targeted solutions


We need our model of care to be a model of a home. In a home everyone contributes, has a say in what happens in the home (such as the menu, interior design, routine and functions), is able to invite their friends to their home for a meal, and can leave during the day and come back at night. A home is a safe place, where people are loved and nurtured, and where they can be active and fulfilled.The Conversation

Lee-Fay Low, Associate Professor in Ageing and Health, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Needless treatments: antipsychotic drugs are rarely effective in ‘calming’ dementia patients

 

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People with dementia often experience a range of psychological symptoms and behaviour changes.
from shutterstock.com

Juanita Westbury, University of Tasmania and Carmelle Peisah, University of Sydney

From time to time, we hear or read about medical procedures or treatments that can be ineffective and needlessly drive up the nation’s health-care costs. This occasional series explores such procedures individually and explains why they could cause more harm than good in particular circumstances.


Antipsychotic medications were initially developed to treat schizophrenia, a mental health condition characterised by psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. Because of their sedative effects, antipsychotic medications (such as risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine and haloperidol) are often used to “manage” people with dementia.

People with dementia often experience a range of psychological symptoms and behaviour changes. These can include anxiety, sleep disturbance, pacing, wandering, crying out, agitation, delusions and hallucinations.

These are referred to as “behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia” (BPSD) though the term “responsive behaviours” has also been adopted to help explain their cause, signalling that there are often reasons behind the behaviours. Understanding and treating these reasons is the best way to approach these behaviours.




Read more:
Chemical restraint in aged-care homes linked to early death



Antipsychotic medications are known as psychotropic medications. These are drugs that alter a person’s mental state and include antipsychotics, antidepressants, benzodiazepines and anticonvulsants, which are also used to sedate patients in nursing homes. These come with significant and serious risks. Clinical guidelines recommend such medications be used only as a last resort.

Psychotropic medicines should only be considered when non-pharmacological interventions have failed and the patient has symptoms that are distressing for them, their family or fellow residents.

Responsive behaviours

Dementia is not just a single disease. It’s a term describing symptoms associated with more than 70 separate diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia. The condition affects many brain functions including language, personality and reasoning skills, not just memory, which is usually associated with the condition.




Read more:
What causes Alzheimer’s disease? What we know, don’t know and suspect


Responsive behaviours in people with dementia vary according to the type and severity of their disease. They also fluctuate over time. A Canadian study of 146 aged care residents assessed these behaviours monthly for six months, revealing a wide variation in their duration and frequency. Results showed most responsive behaviours lasted for less than three months with usual care.

Dementia affects many brain functions including langugage, personality and reasoning skills.
from shutterstock.com

Many responsive behaviours in people with dementia are thought to result from, or be worsened by, unmet needs (pain, hunger), the environment (over- or under-stimulation), social needs (loneliness or need for intimacy) and approaches of carers or others. Sometimes these behaviours are caused by an acute medical illness on top of the dementia, such as an infection. Other times the behaviours arise from the disease process of dementia itself.

Each cause requires different treatment. For example, an infection shouldn’t be missed, nor should pain, each requiring different strategies. So, the first step for those around the person, both health care professionals and family carers, is to work out why they are behaving a certain way rather than reaching for a script pad.

Psychotropic use in aged care

Psychotropic medications are often over-used. The main evidence for excessive use of psychotropics such as antipsychotics in dementia in Australia has been collected in aged care homes. A recent study, that one of the authors was involved in, examined antipsychotic use in 139 homes across all six states and the ACT during 2014-2015. It assessed the use of antipsychotics in more than 11,500 residents.

We found that 22% of residents were taking an antipsychotic medication every day. And concerningly, more than 10% of residents were charted for a “when required” antipsychotic. This means they could be given an antipsychotic dose when a behaviour occurred that their carer decided was necessary to medicate, or a top-up dose in addition to their regular dose.




Read more:
Dementia patients’ thinking ability may get worse in winter and early spring


Excessive use of antipsychotics in older people does not appear to be confined to the residential aged care sector. A 2013 district nursing study of 221 people with dementia living in their own homes found that 18% were prescribed these medications.

Many trials have examined the effectiveness of antipsychotics to treat agitation in people with dementia. These studies show they only offer benefit to about 20% of people with these symptoms and appear to offer no benefit for other responsive behaviours such as wandering, crying out or anxiety.

Antipsychotics don’t benefit symptoms such as wandering, crying out or anxiety.
from shutterstock.com

But what’s worse is that use is associated with severe adverse effects including stroke, early death, infections, Parkinson’s-like movement disturbances, falls and over-sedation.

There are times when behaviours can be severe and disabling and impact the quality of life for the person with dementia. Sometimes the behaviours may put the person or others at risk. In these cases, careful prescribing is recommended. When needed for responsive behaviours, antipsychotics should be taken at the lowest effective dose for a maximum of three-months.

If people are in pain, it is absolutely essential that this is treated. One study showed using increasingly strong analgesia was as effective in treating agitation in dementia as antipsychotics.

Advice for family members

Family members need to understand and be aware of these symptoms and behaviours, their treatment and alternatives and be part of finding out why they are happening as well as the solution.

This includes being aware that legally, psychotropics must be prescribed with consent, either from the person themselves or from their substitute decision-maker. Families should not just be finding out about use of medications when they receive the pharmacy bill.

Skilled advice for nursing homes is available across Australia, 24-hours a day from the Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service and the Severe Behaviour Response Teams. They support aged-care providers in improving care for people with dementia and related behaviours.

Families need to make sure that the facility their loved one resides is in is aware of and uses this service, so they don’t have to resort to using drugs first. The 24-hour helpline number is 1800 699 799.


For more information about your rights, visit empoweredproject.org.auThe Conversation

Juanita Westbury, Senior Lecturer in Dementia Care, University of Tasmania and Carmelle Peisah, Clinical Associate Professor, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Designing for dementia

elderly-1461424_640How can design improve the lives of people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia?

You are stuck in a busy, noisy, unfamiliar building. You are unsure of where you are or even what time of year it is. All the corridors look the same. You find it hard to judge how far away the floor is. You can’t remember where the toilets are. You can’t remember why you’re here. You feel a rising sense of panic as you search for clues to where you are, and even who you are.

As the world’s population expands and the proportion of older people grows, the needs of elderly patients are increasingly relevant to healthcare design. It is estimated that one in four people in UK hospital beds have dementia, and the number of people with dementia is expected to double over the next 30 years.

The King’s Fund, an independent charity working to improve health and healthcare in England, was funded by the Department of Health to carry out a special project looking at how the design of hospitals, outpatient services and care homes could be improved to make life better for people with dementia. This Enhancing the Healing Environment programme was the first systematic look at this topic in the UK, and has resulted in materials and resources which are now being used globally. As well as guidelines for what makes a service dementia-friendly, there is a tool for assessing how dementia-friendly a service is.

The guidelines outline five key principles: meaningful activity, familiarity, legibility, orientation and wayfaring.

What do places that use these principles look like in real life? Age-related changes to vision mean that older people often find it harder to see contrasts and to perceive depth. If flooring changes colour between rooms this can seem like a step and be confusing. If carpets have bold, swirling patterns these can seem like obstacles or holes, which makes moving slow and difficult and can lead to falls. Dementia-friendly wards have matt, even-coloured flooring and clear sightlines through corridors.

The most helpful designs use clear contrasts in colour to mark spaces that have different uses, particularly to flag where toilets are. The toilets themselves have contrasting toilet seats and rails so the person can see where to sit.

Sarah Waller of the King’s Fund notes how innovations that might make some people’s lives easier can actually make things more confusing for people with dementia: “Odd-looking taps are difficult to understand. Sensor taps are almost impossible.”

Features similar to those seen in evidence-based hospital design are also important, including increased light, less noise and use of natural scenes. Increased opportunities for social space, and memorabilia and artworks that prompt memory, can also help. Increased access to staff, for example by using a cluster model of nursing rather than enclosed nursing stations, helps to reassure patients.

The results have shown how crucial good design can be. Changes like these have led to “fewer falls, less violence and aggressive behaviour, and less staff sickness,” says Waller. “Actually we’re making the environment friendly for everybody,” she adds. “Good dementia design is good for everybody.”

 

Find out more about the Enhancing the Healing Environment project.

 

You are stuck in a busy, noisy, unfamiliar building. You are unsure of where you are or even what time of year it is. All the corridors look the same. You find it hard to judge how far away the floor is. You can’t remember where the toilets are. You can’t remember why you’re here. You feel a rising sense of panic as you search for clues to where you are, and even who you are.

As the world’s population expands and the proportion of older people grows, the needs of elderly patients are increasingly relevant to healthcare design. It is estimated that one in four people in UK hospital beds have dementia, and the number of people with dementia is expected to double over the next 30 years.

The King’s Fund, an independent charity working to improve health and healthcare in England, was funded by the Department of Health to carry out a special project looking at how the design of hospitals, outpatient services and care homes could be improved to make life better for people with dementia. This Enhancing the Healing Environment programme was the first systematic look at this topic in the UK, and has resulted in materials and resources which are now being used globally. As well as guidelines for what makes a service dementia-friendly, there is a tool for assessing how dementia-friendly a service is.

The guidelines outline five key principles: meaningful activity, familiarity, legibility, orientation and wayfaring.

What do places that use these principles look like in real life? Age-related changes to vision mean that older people often find it harder to see contrasts and to perceive depth. If flooring changes colour between rooms this can seem like a step and be confusing. If carpets have bold, swirling patterns these can seem like obstacles or holes, which makes moving slow and difficult and can lead to falls. Dementia-friendly wards have matt, even-coloured flooring and clear sightlines through corridors.

The most helpful designs use clear contrasts in colour to mark spaces that have different uses, particularly to flag where toilets are. The toilets themselves have contrasting toilet seats and rails so the person can see where to sit.

Sarah Waller of the King’s Fund notes how innovations that might make some people’s lives easier can actually make things more confusing for people with dementia: “Odd-looking taps are difficult to understand. Sensor taps are almost impossible.”

Features similar to those seen in evidence-based hospital design are also important, including increased light, less noise and use of natural scenes. Increased opportunities for social space, and memorabilia and artworks that prompt memory, can also help. Increased access to staff, for example by using a cluster model of nursing rather than enclosed nursing stations, helps to reassure patients.

The results have shown how crucial good design can be. Changes like these have led to “fewer falls, less violence and aggressive behaviour, and less staff sickness,” says Waller. “Actually we’re making the environment friendly for everybody,” she adds. “Good dementia design is good for everybody.”

 

Find out more about the Enhancing the Healing Environment project.

 

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

A new project shows combining childcare and aged care has social and economic benefits

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Intergenerational care programs encourage relationship building between generations.
Griffith University

Anneke Fitzgerald, Griffith University; Katrina Radford, Griffith University, and Lalitha Kirsnan, Griffith University

What happens when you bring a group of older residents to mix with young children in childcare? Clapping hands and singing songs is just one way they spend the morning together. These interactions are made possible by intergenerational care programs that have gained popularity in Australia in recent years.

Intergenerational care programs provide older adults and children aged three to five with care and social support in the same setting, for short periods of time. This has mutual benefits.

The widespread implementation of intergenerational care programs has the potential to solve many of today’s economic challenges associated with child and aged care, while enhancing the educational and social benefits in encouraging relationship building between generations.

Intergenerational care programs in Australia

Although intergenerational care programs are popular in the US and UK, they’re in their infancy in Australia.

Intergenerational care gives older participants an improved sense of life purpose.
Griffith University

Given changing economic, demographic and social pressures in Australia, there’s an increased need for quality and cost-effective care arrangements for both older people and young children.

There’s an anticipated rise in demand for formal care services associated with an ageing population in Australia. This is further compounded by an increase in people not having children, shifts in perceptions of family obligations for caring, rising divorce rates and rising female employment rates.

Accompanying the unprecedented demand for formal aged care services is the limited supply of such care. Finding appropriate care for both older people and young children in Australia is often difficult and unsuitable for the person in need of care or their carer.

The increase in demand for formal care services and the shortage of supply of such care highlights the need for alternative models. This includes models such as intergenerational care. But current intergenerational programs in Australia tend to operate in residential aged care facilities, lack a formalised program based on educational teaching strategies, and don’t keep track of or evaluate participant outcomes.

The Griffith University Intergenerational Care Project

The Griffith University Intergenerational Care Project focuses on trialling two models of care:

  1. a shared campus model where an aged care centre is located in the same place as a childcare centre
  2. a visiting campus model where childcare and aged care centres are located separately and one group travels to visit the other.
Both younger and older participants in the Intergenerational Care Project have expressed excitement and joy at being able to interact with each other.
Griffith University

The psychological and social benefits of intergenerational care programs are well recognised. Griffith University’s Intergenerational Care Project is investigating the educational, workforce and economic benefits intergenerational care programs can bring to Australia.

This research is now well underway and is being conducted across four locations within Queensland and NSW. It’s conducted with older adults living with dementia and children aged three to five years.

In this program, older people and children meet for one hour each week over 16 weeks. They partake in shared activities designed to enhance engagement between generations.

Preliminary results suggest the reception of the program has been positive. Both younger and older participants expressed excitement and joy at being able to interact with each other.

Benefits of intergenerational care

Intergenerational care programs give children the opportunity to learn from and connect with an older generation, improve children’s behaviour and attitude towards older people, and enhance the overall well-being of both young and old participants.




Read more:
Combining daycare for children and elderly people benefits all generations


For older participants, intergenerational care programs allow them to pass on their knowledge and interact with young children in a meaningful way. As a result, they feel an improved sense of life meaning and enhanced self-worth.

Broader benefits

Community perceptions of older adults and ageing also tend to shift from negative to positive. This is especially important because older people want to be treated as valued members in society.
Intergenerational care programs enhance the quality of relationships between ageing people and children, and challenge ageist stereotypes.

Intergenerational care programs create a strong opportunity to address ageism in society from an early age and challenge people’s assumptions about the contributions of people living with dementia or experiencing other forms of cognitive decline.

This is particularly important in Australia. It’s projected by 2050 about one million people will be living with a dementia-related illness. This represents an increase of 254% since 2011.

There are also economic and wider social benefits of intergenerational care.
Griffith University

Delivering intergenerational programs in one location is also attractive because of anticipated cost savings. Both aged care and childcare organisations can decrease total running costs by sharing resources such as skilled labour, learning materials, and buildings.

Our preliminary workforce interview findings suggest intergenerational care is a career path that interests staff. It also suggests creating a training qualification to enable this career path may address workforce shortages in both child care and aged care.




Read more:
What happened when we introduced four-year-olds to an old people’s home


Intergenerational care programs offer an effective alternative model of care in Australia in the face of increasing economic, demographic and social pressures. An extensive rollout of such programs has the potential to give families access to more, higher quality childcare, and helps older people feel like valued members of society.

Anneke Fitzgerald, Professor, Griffith University; Katrina Radford, Lecturer, Deputy Director Research IBAS, Griffith University, and Lalitha Kirsnan, Marketing and Communications Officer, Intergenerational Care Project, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Beastie Boy John Berry died of frontal lobe dementia – but what is it?

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Jan Oyebode, University of Bradford

John Berry, a founder member of the Beastie Boys, has died of dementia at the age of 52. Berry’s father told Rolling Stone magazine that his son died from frontal lobe dementia, a rare form of dementia more properly referred to as fronto-temporal dementia.

Symptoms of fronto-temporal dementia usually begin in late middle age. Because the disease is not very well known, people with fronto-temporal dementia often have delays in receiving a diagnosis and may find the services they need are not available.

A tricky term

The terms used for this dementia are confusing. The changes in the brain are referred to as “fronto-temporal lobar degeneration”. These do not initially have any effect on people’s behaviour. Once signs and symptoms show up, it is possible to diagnose the condition as one of the “fronto-temporal dementias”.

When the frontal lobes – the parts of the brain lying immediately behind the forehead – are mainly affected, there are changes in behaviour or personality, resulting in “behavioural variant fronto-temporal dementia”. When the temporal lobes – parts of the brain near the temples – are mainly affected, dementia shows up through changes in language, of which there are two types: semantic dementia and progressive non-fluent aphasia. Whichever type of fronto-temporal dementia people have, they do not come to the doctor complaining of the sort of problems with memory loss that most of us think of as being signs of dementia.

We don’t know the specific symptoms that John Berry had as each case of fronto-temporal dementia is different, but about four to 15 people in every 100,000 have fronto-temporal dementias – and there are some common symptoms.

Losing the supervisor

There is huge variation in how fronto-temporal dementia progresses. But over time, it usually affects more and more aspects of thinking and functioning. It is a condition that shortens life, with people living about three to ten years after diagnosis.

So what happens during the earlier stages of behavioural variant fronto-temporal dementia – the type that is sited in the frontal lobes? One way of thinking of this area of the brain is to imagine it as the supervisor of complex activities and social behaviour. When the supervisor starts to do its job poorly, people develop trouble with complicated tasks. They may not be able to get started, so they may seem apathetic and lacking in energy. When they get started they may get stuck in a groove.

Fronto-temporal dementia is sometimes confused with depression.
IgorGolovniov/Shutterstock.com

One carer we spoke with described how his brother would drive the car late into the night until it ran out of petrol even though he knew, on one level, that he ought to stop to fill up.

Sometimes people repeat an action over and over in exactly the same way, perhaps arranging objects very precisely or following a set daily routine according to a strict timetable. As the frontal lobe overseer loosens control, people often become uninhibited. They may become blunt and tactless. They may act on appetites and urges in ways that are quite out of character: touching people, swearing profusely when irritated and eating excessive amounts of sweet foods.

A particular difficulty for friends and family is that people with this dementia lose their ability to empathise. They may no longer offer comfort if someone is in tears and may seem very self-centred.

As not many people are familiar with the condition, it is often mistaken for other more common conditions. People may put the changes down to mid-life crisis, stress at work, depression or the menopause. It is possible that the condition is often misdiagnosed.

On average, it takes four years to diagnosis after symptom onset for younger people with dementia, twice as long as for those over 65 years of age, by which time, relationships may have broken down. People with fronto-temporal dementia are often at a stage of life where they still have children – and sometimes parents – who depend on them. So this, coupled with their increasing needs for support can be very stressful for everyone. Yet a recent national survey, currently in press, found there was a lack of provision of appropriate care across most of the country.

Biomedical research is making strides in identifying many of the proteins that accumulate as plaques in the brains of the people affected. The genetic aspects which affect about one in every five to ten cases are also now understood. However, with a cure still a long way off, research into how to support and assist people to manage their day-to-day lives is also very important. In our research we have taken detailed accounts of the experiences of those affected and we will be using these to develop and test ways of helping people and their families to manage and live better with the condition.The Conversation

Jan Oyebode, Professor of Dementia Care, University of Bradford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Frontal lobe paradox: where people have brain damage but don’t know it

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Sam Gilbert, UCL and Melanie George, Canterbury Christ Church University

Humans have big brains and our frontal lobes, just behind the forehead, are particularly huge. Injuries to this part of the brain often happen after blows to the head or a stroke. Paradoxically, some people with frontal lobe injuries can seem unaffected – until they’ve been carefully evaluated.

The frontal lobes are sometimes described as the executives of the brain, or conductors of the orchestra. Among other things, they control and organise our thinking and decision-making processes. You rely on your frontal lobes when you do things like make plans, switch from one activity to another, or resist temptation.

Some people with frontal lobe injuries seem completely normal in short one-to-one conversations, but they actually have great difficulty with everyday tasks, such as cooking, organising their paperwork or remembering to take medication. This is called the frontal lobe paradox because, even though these people seem unimpaired when assessed, they have significant difficulties in everyday life.

Without specialist expertise in acquired brain injuries, it can be almost impossible to spot frontal lobe paradox because, in many cases, people will still be able to speak normally and seem remarkably unimpaired. They may be unaware of their difficulties and deny that they need any help or support.

Insight issues

People affected by the condition are not lying when they say they don’t need help or support. Instead, they may lack knowledge of their own condition because areas of the frontal lobes that are responsible for self-monitoring and developing insight have been affected by their brain damage.

A second reason for the frontal lobe paradox is that the skills needed for an assessment interview are different from those needed in everyday life. The structure and routine of an environment, such as a rehabilitation ward, can, in effect, play the role of someone’s frontal lobes. This can mask the difficulties people experience in less structured, open-ended environments. For this reason, a person’s level of ability needs to be assessed in a situation that resembles everyday life. A seemingly simple task, such as going shopping, can reveal difficulties in people who appear unimpaired on standard tests of memory and attention, and have normal intelligence.

People with frontal lobe paradox may need help with things like cooking.
Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

Lack of specialist training

Neuroscientists and doctors have known about the frontal lobe paradox for at least 50 years, but it is not always understood by non-specialists. This situation can lead to people not receiving help they desperately need.

For example, in England and Wales, social workers and care managers are usually responsible for deciding whether a person has the capacity (under the Mental Capacity Act 2005) to decline support or care. These are hardworking professionals who are motivated to act in the best interests of those under their care, but many receive little or no specialist training in brain injury.

These professionals tend to base their decision about a person’s mental capacity on a short face-to-face interview. This is exactly the situation that can lead to people with frontal lobe damage being denied the care that they need.

The assessment provides the support needed for a person to sound competent and able, but only for the duration of the assessment. In one example, a woman persuaded a series of professionals that she could safely live alone after a significant brain injury. In reality, she could not make meals for herself or remember to take her lifesaving medication. Sadly, she died at home shortly afterwards.

Support needed

We don’t know exactly how common the condition is, but the frontal lobe paradox is probably found in a much higher number of people than you might first imagine. As well as those who have suffered blows to the head and strokes, it can affect people with certain infections, some forms of dementia and even poorly controlled diabetes.

It is vital that social workers and care managers are trained on brain injury to protect the interests of people with frontal lobe injuries. People with these injuries are in particular need of support, but they are often the least likely to receive it.The Conversation

Sam Gilbert, Associate Professor, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL and Melanie George, Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist, Canterbury Christ Church University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is there really a benefit from getting an early dementia diagnosis?

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Tim Gomersall, University of Huddersfield

The Alzheimer’s Society recently issued a call for people with symptoms such as memory loss and confusion to seek early medical help. The British charity is worried that people may be putting off getting a dementia diagnosis and not receiving the health care and support they need. As the Alzheimer’s Society’s recent blog post put it: “A lack of diagnosis is denying many people with dementia the chance of getting the best possible treatment, information and support – evidence shows the earlier on you receive these, the better your chance of living well for longer.” But is early diagnosis always a good thing?

Early diagnosis has also been a key policy aim for government. We can see this in the National Dementia Strategy, and David Cameron’s Challenge on Dementia. A few years ago, the NHS even trialled a scheme to pay GPs £55 for each dementia diagnosis made. This move was widely condemned by doctors’ groups and quietly dropped after six months. In any event, the push for earlier diagnosis continues. So what exactly are the benefits of earlier diagnosis? And who are the beneficiaries?

What works?

There are no known treatments to prevent or reverse dementia, although drugs called memantine and acetylcholinesterase inhibitors can help to relieve symptoms .

In the course of my recent fieldwork, however, I met some people with memory loss who invested hope in these treatments beyond what was possible. They believed that getting onto anticholinesterase inhibitors as soon as possible could delay further decline.

Drugs can help with symptoms.
Photographee.eu/Shutterstock.com

One of the most difficult experiences in my recent research was meeting a woman who felt she had been denied treatment by the doctors, and asked me and my colleague if we were able to prescribe them for her. We had to explain that we were not clinically qualified, and in any case, the drugs would not prevent the progression of dementia. But false hope can translate into big profits for drugs companies.

The anticholinesterase inhibitor market had an estimated value of US$4.2 billion globally in 2011, with this figure set to increase over coming years as people live longer. One recent market analysis identified early diagnosis as “a challenge [that] will affect the growth of the market over the 2013-2023 forecast period”.

Thankfully, drug treatment is not the only option for people with dementia. Anyone with suspected dementia can access a memory clinic on the NHS to seek practical support for their needs. Memory clinics typically include a range of health professionals – including occupational therapists, psychologists, specialist nurses and psychiatrists. These multidisciplinary teams can help with emotional and occupational support. They can also offer advice on adapting homes – for instance, by providing memory aids, grab rails for bathing and toileting, and extra lighting.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also recommends “group cognitive stimulation programmes”. Cognitive stimulation uses enjoyable activities to engage thinking and memory – for example, musical activities, reminiscence sessions, and games. A recent review suggests this approach could help to maintain cognitive abilities, particularly memory and communication.

However, the current evidence relies on a number of small trials of often quite different activities, going back to 1979. Nevertheless, in the absence of effective drug treatments, cognitive stimulation is important for many people with dementia, and continues to attract research and practice interest.

Finally, we shouldn’t underestimate the psychological importance of receiving a diagnosis. Overall, the evidence shows a mixed picture. On the one hand, people are glad to understand the cause of their symptoms, to be able to plan for the future, and access resources such as dementia support groups. However, people often worry about the stigma of dementia, and some want to avoid the emotional impact of the diagnosis.

Is earlier better?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been involved in a project looking at people’s experiences of mild cognitive impairment. This syndrome is defined as a “boundary state” between cognitive ageing (a normal process) and dementia.

If the Alzheimer’s Society’s suggestion that dementia is being under-diagnosed holds, then people with mild cognitive impairment are an anomaly. They have sought medical advice for possible dementia symptoms which are not severe enough for a diagnosis. Might it be that more people are already seeking help earlier, as the Alzheimer’s Society hopes? It seems plausible.

After the National Dementia Strategy was launched, there was a 12% increase in dementia diagnosis rates in the UK between 2009 and 2011, and recent studies show a continued upward trend.

So, who benefits from early diagnosis? As suggested above, a number of commercial and charitable organisations stand to gain substantially. There are also some benefits that may accrue to people with dementia from an early diagnosis in terms of symptom control and cognitive stimulation. Though any potential gains are small, these can still be meaningful to the person.

The other side of this, however, is the risk of over-diagnosis and increased public health anxiety associated with such “public awareness” campaigns. For example, our recent review of mild cognitive impairment research suggests people with this diagnosis live with significant uncertainty about the cause of their problems.

These patients often continue to worry about possible dementia, and the infrastructure for supporting them is patchy at best. The ethics of diagnosing people who may have no underlying illness has also been questioned. So yes, we should be helping people with dementia to get the support they need as soon as possible. But this shouldn’t come at the cost of over-diagnosing and over-medicating people.The Conversation

Tim Gomersall, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Huddersfield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.