Starting a conversation: Occupational therapy and dementia

In this blog, the authors of 'Occupational Therapy and Dementia' discuss the importance of occupational therapy in better supporting people living with dementia, as well as raising awareness about reducing the risk of dementia.

As the number of people living with dementia increases due to the world’s ageing population and longer life expectancies, new therapeutic approaches to care have emerged in recent years. 

These strategies, which can include stimulating activities like music and art, or cognitive training, are designed to improve quality of life for the person living with dementia. When effectively used within a tailored and optimised care plan, these interventions can help with verbal skills, depression, anxiety and occupational abilities.  

In this blog from Fiona Maclean, Alison Warren, Elaine Hunter and Lyn Wescott, authors of ‘Occupational therapy and dementia’, the team writes about the importance of occupational therapy in better supporting people living with dementia, carers and families, as well as way of raising awareness around dementia risk reduction.

Starting a conversation

Occupational therapists work to enable people and communities to live their best lives.

They work with people of all ages, focusing on the ways in which time spent influences health and well-being. This could be from playing sport, through to going to work and caring for others.  

But perhaps most importantly, occupational therapists focus on the areas which are identified by people as most important to them, working further to support and enable the person to a lead a purposeful, fulfilling life.   

Helping to reduce the risk of dementia

Irrespective of practice setting, occupational therapists have a vital role to play in public health promotion connected to dementia risk reduction across the life span.  More widely the profession are experts in advocating for the right to occupation (what we want, need, and must do as part of our everyday lives) to empower people living with dementia, and those who support them, to maintain and sustain a positive life for longer. 

The importance of this professional contribution is increasingly underpinned by a rich breadth and depth of research, policy, and practice. Yet often, the involvement of occupational therapists who work in partnership with people living with dementia, can sometimes feel misplaced. 

This framed our ambition to come together as co-editors of a new publication ‘Occupational therapy and dementia: Promoting inclusion and opportunities for people living with dementia’.  

Over forty co-authors have contributed to this book and their generosity and willingness to share their expertise from both within and beyond the profession of occupational therapy has been overwhelming.   

Occupational therapy and dementia 

Though this textbook is primarily aimed towards pre-registration and recent Occupational Therapy graduates, it has relevance to a wider allied health and social care professional audience, thanks to an interdisciplinary team of writers.

The book provides a platform through which an array of diverse perspectives can be shared including how a rights-based approach can influence practice, for example, in acute and community settings, including the air travel industry. Or how we can consider citizenship in the context of occupation and dementia. 

Lorna, who is living with dementia, used embroidery as a way to explore and express her diagnosis.

We hope through sharing these perspectives we will influence how occupational therapists think and therefore act in practice. 

Central to the book, however, are the voices of those living with dementia, as well as carers and supporters. Throughout the book, personal examples and stories are shared on the importance of keeping occupations – or the activities that bring meaning to those most impacted – continued. 

In the book, Lorna who is living with dementia, illustrates the importance to her of a favoured occupation, embroidery: Lorna says she would like to embroider her brain. She means, of course, that she would like to embroider the image of the scan of her brain.  She says that the image was so unique and interesting that she would like to explore that through her craft.” 

It is a brave act to focus her attention on the thing that confirmed her diagnosis and the uniqueness of her condition. It is obvious, however, that Lorna would find it empowering too: it is a way of exploring the meaning of her context, to understand and express herself in relation to her condition.

Rights, opportunities and reflections

In sharing knowledge and experience through this book, we aim to open a conversation with the profession of occupational therapy to emphasise that dementia is every therapist’s business. From those working with children and young people and the importance of brain health, to those diagnosed with dementia; occupational therapists can and do positively enhance their daily lives. 

We aim to frame this conversation around the acronym of ROAR: 

  • Rights: To consider the rights of people living with dementia, set within the practice of occupational therapy 
  • Opportunities: For the profession to evolve opportunities new research will offer, in areas of therapeutic interventions, brain health, technology and medicine. 
  • AND 
  • Reflections: To further reflect on the role of occupational therapy with, for example, people living with learning disabilities and dementia; people living with dementia from ethnic minority backgrounds and people living with dementia as part of our LGBTQI+ community

What we know and understand is of course important, however it is what we do with our knowledge and understanding that can and does make the real difference.  

Fiona Maclean, Alison Warren, Elaine Hunter and Lyn Wescot can be found and reached through Twitter. If interested in further supporting their conversation with occupational therapists, consider using the #ROARdementia acronym to reach out via Twitter or Instagram.
‘Occupational therapy and dementia’ will be available to order on 21 December 2022.

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