How Could Something Used to Treat Autism Also Be Used to Treat Dementia?

Kevin’s mother, Lydia, takes him for Interactive Metronome therapy twice a week to improve his focus. She decided to give this therapy a try, with hopes that he could better sit still in class and attend to learning. Kevin has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and inattentiveness is among his most pervasive of symptoms.

In the waiting room one day, Lydia began a conversation with an 80-year old woman, whose husband was there for the same sort of therapy, but for dementia. Lydia was amazed that a therapy that helps ASD can also be of benefit to someone with dementia.

What is Interactive Metronome Therapy?

Those who play musical instruments may be familiar with a metronome, a device used to help keep time and maintain a steady beat. Interactive Metronome (IM) therapy is designed to communicate with the brain’s “internal clock,” which is responsible for detecting where sounds originate, regulating waking and sleep states, and aiding our ability to focus, remember information, or coordinate our muscles and movements.

IM therapy involves game-like auditory and visual stimuli as well as movement exercises that can help all types of disorders having to do with the brain, including ASD and dementia. In fact, it’s been known to be used for conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, auditory processing disorders, and other issues that are often the result of problems that occur within the brain. IM therapy is designed to help with cognitive and motor skills, and many patients see progress throughout the therapy, which is motivating for success. Positive outcomes in focus, attention, speech, language, reading, coordination, gait, and balance have been shown to occur through Interactive Metronome therapy. Of course, similar to other therapies and treatments, it may not work for everyone.

How Interactive Metronome Therapy Works

So, how does IM therapy work? As an example, one exercise involves a patient standing in front of a computer screen with a headset and gloves with a push button — the patient is asked to clap each time she hears a loud “ding,” and the computer tracks how accurately the claps match the sounds. Other movement exercises involve moving the hands or feet to repetitive sounds at a steady rhythm, similar to that of the musical metronome.

For individuals with cognitive and physical disabilities, these exercises can be very difficult. But through continued work, patients can improve their focus and even their processing speed.

If the Same Therapy Helps Autism and Dementia, then Are They Alike?

When things go wrong in the brains of seniors and children, the very old and the very young, the cause is, more often than not, quite similar. In children, the result could be an ASD (a neurodevelopmental disease); whereas in seniors, it’s often a form of dementia (a neurodegenerative disease).

Both conditions are taking a huge toll on the families involved. Dementia occurs in about 8.8% of adults above the age of 65, whereas an estimated 1 in 68 school-aged children have been identified as being on the autism spectrum.

Studies conducted on neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders such as these point to a strong correlation between dementia and autism. According to a recent NIH study, ASD and Dementia have certain things in common.

  • Both ASD and dementia share a number of symptoms, including disrupted sleep, being in a catatonic state at times, difficulty with balance and language comprehension, and attention deficiencies.
  • Both ASD and dementia patients have significantly similar abnormal findings in the brain including an abundance of certain metal ions such as mercury, a build-up of neurotoxins, an increase in B-amyloid (a protein commonly associated with dementia), and existence of viral or bacterial infection.
  • Though there is no conclusive evidence, it is believed that ASD and dementia are both highly inheritable disorders and in both situations, genetic susceptibility often interacts with environmental factors.

There is just not enough research to conclusively prove that autism and dementia are linked. Though they share a similarity of symptoms and may have similarities at the gene level, additional research is required to know for certain. Current research suggests that there may be a link, but it may take years of studies to establish and understand the potential link between autism and dementia.

Treating Dementia and ASD

When it comes to ASD, because every child has unique symptoms, each child typically receives therapy to meet his or her specific needs. The same premise can work for dementia. While there’s currently no cure for any type of dementia, early treatment of dementia symptoms will enable the person who is affected, doctors, caregivers, and loved ones to manage the disease more effectively.

Dementia and Special Needs Planning at the Farr Law Firm

Regardless of symptoms, persons with dementia and those with special needs and their families face special legal and financial needs. Controlling the high costs of caring for a loved one with dementia or special needs, while simultaneously navigating the emotionally and physically demanding requirements of caregiving, require planning assistance of a highly skilled and specialized expert, such as the attorneys at the Farr Law Firm.

Dementia Planning at the Farr Law Firm

Here 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 your 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. Learn more here.

Special Needs Planning at the Farr Law Firm

A special needs trust is recommended to protect a disabled individual’s financial future. Also known as Supplemental Needs Trusts, this type of trust preserves legal eligibility for federal and state benefits by keeping assets out of the disabled person’s name while still allowing those assets to be used to benefit the person with special needs. Read more here.

If you have a loved one who you believe is suffering from dementia or a loved one with special needs, please call us to make an appointment for a consultation:

Elder Law Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law DC: 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.