Australian Ageing Agenda

New hope for people with dementia

By Yasmin Noone

Australia’s first ever dementia-specific program using paper-based activities, interaction and stimulation to help slow the progression of the disease, has been officially launched by Alzheimer’s Australia WA today.

The Ashby Memory Method (AMM), which originates from Canada, uses techniques adapted from brain injury neuro-rehabilitation to help improve the memory of people with early to moderate dementia while enhancing their quality of life.

The evidence-based AMM program, which is said to improve dementia symptoms and the overall quality of life of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, will now be made available to the aged care sector via Alzheimer’s Australia WA, in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Innovation Institute.

Application of the AMM program involves a carer (formal or informal) working through a series of booklets with the person living with dementia.

The booklets, which cover a range of topics – like history, maths, science, geography, travel, art, sport – feature questions about each interest area and aim to solicit conversation from the individual with dementia. The ‘errorless learning’ interaction between the person asking the questions and the adult with dementia also lifts their confidence and therefore their quality of life.

Alzheimer’s Innovation Institute CEO, John Ashby, explained the method’s success was based on the brain’s ability to adapt through cognitive training.

“Dementia can be viewed as a slow forming brain injury and while therapeutic drugs can halt the progression of the disease, the effects only lasts for about a year before the person’s decline continues,” Mr. Ashby said.

“With this program, we could see actual improvements in the quality of life of people with dementia and a slowing of the person’s decline for a longer period.”

In previous trials, the AMM has lead to improvements in dementia symptoms for the first three months and then a stabilising of results thereafter. However, as dementia is a degenerative and progressive disease, in some individuals a plateau still marks an improvement.

The individualised program was trialled by Alzheimer’s Australia WA for 12 months as part of a pilot study where participants with dementia undertook the personalised paper-based activities twice a week facilitated by a support worker.

Alzheimer’s Australia WA’s CEO, Frank Schaper, said the results from the trial were overwhelmingly positive and the AMM program could be adapted for use in Australia.

“People with dementia who took part in the study reported improvements in recall, mood, self esteem and confidence in their abilities,” Mr. Schaper said.

An occupational therapist has been hired by the WA-branch of Alzheimer’s Australia to offer training, advice and ongoing support to dementia-specific organisations and individuals wanting to implement the AMM program.

General Manager of client services for Alzheimer’s Australia WA, Lynne Hedley, said she has seen the AMM’s positive results, first-hand. Not only does it improve dementia symptoms, but it has instilled participants with a higher sense of self-esteem and encouraged social interaction.

“One family member [of a person with dementia] came back to us and said her husband hadn’t made his own breakfast for quite a length of time before participating in the program,” said Ms Hedley.

“But, after being involved in this program, she found he felt more confident and started making his breakfast in the morning.

“It was quite enabling for him.”

She said staff providing respite also benefited from the AMM as the positive outcomes the program reaps improved job satisfaction levels.

“Sometimes people underestimate what people with dementia can do. I’m forever amazed at hearing people say ‘mum can no longer do that’ and then you say ‘let’s give it a try and just see how goes?

“People make huge assumptions that people with dementia no longer have [certain] abilities and sometimes, some people do.”

Mr. Schaper said the introduction of the AMM program in Australia was timely as without a medical breakthrough, the number of people with dementia in the country is set to rise to almost 1 million by 2050.

“As the leaders in dementia care, the organisation is constantly seeking new ways to provide additional support for people with dementia and helping to improve their quality of life,” he said.

“The AMM program will be offered to complement other care and support services we already offer and we intend to partner with other aged care service providers to ensure it is available to their clients with dementia.

“These factors are important indicators of the quality of life for people living with dementia.”

For more information about the Ashby Memory Method call the Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500.