Dementia Therapies That Really Work

Mary’s husband passed away after 55 years of marriage. She was diagnosed with early stage dementia, and lived alone for a while. She was depressed and didn’t make much contact with others. Her daughter convinced her to move to an assisted living community before her disease progresses, so she would have others to talk to and activities to attend. After much convincing, she decided to do so.

When Mary first moved to the assisted living community, she was uncomfortable and kept to herself, as she had done at home. She would cry and call out during the night. She missed her husband and her home.

It turns out Mary’s assisted living was one of a dozen around the country to participate in a SAIDO Therapy trial, and Mary was among the participants. Mary’s daughter is convinced that SAIDO has changed her mother’s life for the better. Mary is playing bingo on her own and is less depressed and anxious, and she is no longer crying and calling out. Mary is more social and she’s learning to manage her emotions better.

In another example, Doris has moderate dementia. She used to spend most of her time in bed, and didn’t say much to others. She was completely unaware of time and didn’t go to dinner, because she would forget where the dining room was. After SAIDO therapy, Doris is spending less time in bed during the day, is more talkative and animated, and is coming to dinner on her own. She is more engaged in her own life, and demonstrates that she is aware of time again, and remembers where the dining room is located.

SAIDO Learning is a non-pharmacologic cognitive rehabilitation therapy developed by the Kumon Institute of Education in Japan. Through the method, a caregiver engages residents in a series of simple arithmetic, writing and reading exercises five days a week for 30 minutes each day. By stimulating the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the therapy seeks to improve cognitive function. SAIDO Learning already has been practiced for more than a decade in more than 1,400 nursing facilities in Japan, where it has shown positive results. SAIDO therapy is currently being tested at five U.S. communities, and the Cleveland-based SAIDO Learning Institute is working with partner organizations to offer the therapy at other locations. According to the SAIDO website, “(t)he goal of SAIDO is not to simply provide care for individuals with dementia, but to actually reverse or reduce the progress of the disease’s symptoms.” The website discusses how SAIDO is also used to alleviate loneliness and isolation, and states that “(f)amily education and support fosters additional opportunities in the home to sustain positive improvements and independence achieved using SAIDO.”

Other Therapies for Dementia Patients

At this time, not all facilities offer SAIDO therapy, but there are other therapies that have been proven to help those with dementia, as follows:

Stimulation-oriented treatments include art, music and pet therapies, exercise, and any other kind of recreational activities for patients. These treatments impact dementia patients positively by:

  • improving patients’ moods and feelings of well-being, and decreasing their levels of anxiety;
  • fostering positive emotions;
  • recalling memories;
  • giving patients a sense of control over life;
  • promoting interest even when other approaches are ineffective;
  • providing opportunities to interact socially with others;
  • reducing agitation;
  • increasing pleasure;
  • increasing appetite (studies show that those with dementia eat more following the visit of a therapy animal, in particular); and
  • lowering blood pressure.

Cognitive Therapy is a program of themed activities, usually carried out over several weeks in small groups, led by a trained nurse, an occupational therapist, or a caregiver. Each session covers a different topic and is designed to improve the mental abilities and memory of someone with dementia. Evidence so far suggests that Cognitive Stimulation Therapy could be just as beneficial as drug treatments for the symptoms of dementia.

  • Cognitive Therapy is usually carried out over 14 sessions, each lasting around 45 minutes and containing structured discussions and group activities. Groups are deliberately small, often consisting of only five to eight people.
  • Each session follows the same structure, though the theme changes. Topics might include childhood, food, current affairs, and using money. Different activities are offered around each theme. For instance, one week the activities might involve word puzzles or games, another week playing a musical instrument. The group should provide a supportive atmosphere and the activities should offer a range of multi-sensory experiences . . . and be fun.
  • A trial in 23 senior homes showed that cognitive therapy led to ‘significant benefits’ in mental ability and memory, similar to the benefits of taking medication for symptoms of memory loss. Further research revealed that cognitive therapy could also make a significant impact on language skills such as naming, word-finding, and comprehension. They also saw an increase in confidence and psychological well-being.

Reminiscence therapy helps patients recall events that happened long ago, even when short term memory is failing. It can also help to boost a patient’s mood and stimulate conversation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that stimulating long-term memory can also improve short-term memory and increase the self-worth and engagement of someone with dementia.

  • In reminiscence therapy, the caregiver, relative, friend or professional therapist will start by showing the people they’re working with some key multi-sensory items designed to trigger memories. For example, a photograph of a certain president, a 1950’s kettle, or an old fashioned egg whisk. She might also play a popular song from the 1940s, or show clips from a film of the same era. The items are then used to stimulate conversation and remind the person with dementia of their identity.
  • If they’re in a nursing home, or have domestic professional caregivers, it’s a great way for the staff to get to know them better, and gain an understanding of the richness and complexity of their lives before they had dementia.

Medicaid Asset Protection for Loved Ones with Dementia

Do you have a loved one who has dementia? As you can see, although there is no cure for dementia, there are treatments that can help.

Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia, please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Medicaid Planning: 703-691-1888

Fredericksburg Medicaid Planning: 540-479-1435

Rockville Medicaid Planning: 301-519-8041

DC Medicaid Planning: 202-587-2797


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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.