FAU study shows non-pharmacological therapies are highly effective
Exercise using a ball, memory training, cooking, painting or doing craft work – all of these can slow down the progression of dementia in patients, as long as these activities are done regularly and in a group. These are the results of several studies carried out by Prof. Dr. Elmar Gräßel at FAU’s Chair of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy. The studies have shown that, in addition to slowing the progress of the disease in comparison to treatment based purely on medication, these therapies also benefit patients’ mental health.
Elmar Gräßel researches therapies which do not use medication and has shown in two studies that these therapies improve patients’ ability to deal with every-day life. Furthermore, non-pharmacological therapies also have a positive effect on patients’ mood and well-being, and reduce abnormal behaviour which is often caused by dementia.
‘In comparison to medication, the advantage of non-pharmacological therapies is that they do not have any side effects and they give patients a purposeful and fulfilling way to spend their time,’ Gräßel emphasises. In the therapy programme ‘MAKS’, which is based on motory, practical, cognitive and spiritual motivation, a team of therapists work with dementia patients on a daily basis on activities which are designed to train their movement and perception, as well as their memory, reasoning and speech.
Patients also carry out day-to-day tasks together, such as chopping vegetables and laying the table, so that they retain their ability to do these things for as long as possible. The activity programme starts with a short spiritual element, such as saying a prayer together. The aim of this is to help the dementia sufferers adjust to the group and feel a sense of purpose. Gräßel and his team studied the programme over a period of twelve months.
They also looked at a second therapeutic approach, the ‘SenSo’ project which was tested in a group for senior citizens, Seniorengruppe Sophienstraße, in Erlangen and is the predecessor of the MAKS concept. It has a particular focus on practical, everyday tasks and also uses motory exercises, such as exercise using chairs and balls, and creative activities such as painting and craft work. In contrast to the MAKS programme, this concept was not yet standardised and could be applied flexibly. However, this concept of preserving abilities was considerably less effective than the MAKS therapy which was applied in an organised and standardised way.