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Animal therapy

Living with dementia can be difficult, but there is research to suggest that animal therapies can help those with the condition. Here, Sean Whiting from pet and equestrian supplies specialist Houghton Country explains the benefits that animals can have for people with dementia.

Dementia can be a very lonely condition, with many patients suffering from emotional and communication difficulties. These symptoms often leave people with dementia feeling frustrated and down. But, with a study published by Clinical Nursing Research finding that animal-assisted therapies can have a positive effect on both the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, it may be time to incorporate time with animals into your patients' routine.

Here, I will be sharing some of the main benefits that animals can have for people living with dementia.

They offer companionship

Given the symptoms that patients with dementia experience, they can often feel characterised by their condition and isolate themselves as a result of their frustrations. This can significantly lower their quality of life, making them feel sad and lonely.

Animals offer unconditional love and attention, and can help to give a sense of purpose to those who may feel restricted and helpless because of their condition. They can also help to ease feelings of loneliness and are particularly useful for getting patients to work on their social skills without having to have a full-blown conversation that may feel overwhelming to them.

They can decrease behavioural problems

It isn't uncommon for patients with dementia to have behavioural problems like increased agitation and aggression. But, animal-assisted therapy has shown promising results for treating these types of behaviours in patients with dementia (The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry).

This is likely down to a number of reasons. For one, some animals have the ability to make us feel instantly better by boosting our happiness hormone (oxytocin) and lowering the stress hormone (cortisol) (Psychology Today). Similarly, allowing patients to care for an animal helps them to increase their social behaviours like touch and smiling — this, in turn, helps them to become more conscious about their actions towards others.

They can boost appetite and nutrition levels

A loss of appetite is one of the main symptoms in patients with dementia. This might be because they have poor memory and judgement, which can have an impact on their relationship with food and nutrition. Similarly, they may forget how to chew or swallow, or become more easily distracted by their environment. In some cases, a loss of appetite in these patients can be tied in with feeling depressed due to the symptoms of the condition.

However, animals have been found to improve the appetite of individuals with dementia. In one study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research, nutritional intake significantly increased when aquariums were introduced to care institutions and continued to increase in the weekly follow-up period.

They increase physical activity

As dementia develops, the amount of muscle tone a patient has may decrease due to changes in brain volume and function. But, when you're caring for somebody with this condition, it's important that you still get them moving about to the best of their ability.

Giving them a pet to look after or introducing them to an animal will get them on their feet (if they're able to stand on their own or with mobility aids). Even just extending their hands and flexing their fingers to stroke a cat or throwing a ball for a dog to fetch will help to increase their strength without exhausting them.

They create a sense of routine

The days can often merge into one for those with dementia, who will be experiencing memory loss. But, having animals visit on specific days of the week can help patients to find a sense of routine and give them something to look forward to. This in itself can positively affect their social skills, as these weekly visits will be a conversation starter.

Dementia can create challenges in all aspects of a patient's life, but animal-assisted therapies can help to ease their symptoms and make them feel more content.

Alzheimer’s in men and women

Unfortunately, no one is exempt from developing Alzheimer’s. It can be a devastating illness for anyone involved and is most likely to occur in men and women over 65 years old. However, it is believed that 5% of the population may develop symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s before then.

Although these facts may seem like common knowledge, something that is often not considered in healthcare is how the illness presents itself in men versus women. In this blog, Sova will explore gender differences in Alzheimer’s.

Are Women More Likely To Develop Alzheimer’s Than Men?

In short, yes. It is believed that women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s due to a range of genetic, anatomical and social factors. According to recent figures, 65% of cases of Alzheimer’s patients in the UK are female with it being the leading cause of death in women. One possible explanation for this is that women have a longer life expectancy than men, as Alzheimer’s usually develops in old age.

Alzheimer’s and the Brain

Another possible cause for women being more likely to develop the disease is due to anatomical differences between male and female brains. A new study by the Alzheimer's Association found that clumps of a protein called ‘tau’ could be responsible. The study looked at the way the protein was spread in the brains in groups of men and women. The scans discovered that it spreads more rapidly in women. When tau forms clumps in the brain, brain cells die - leading to memory problems. Since one of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s is a build-up of tau in the brain, this could be another potential cause for women being more likely to develop the illness.

Alzheimer’s and Exercise

Research has also shown that generally, women do less exercise than men. This could contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. One study found that women with a high fitness level were 88% less likely to develop the illness when compared to those of a medium fitness level. This suggests that exercise might be a factor in developing Alzheimer’s since it improves blood flow to the brain and strengthens the connections between brain cells. Since women often do less exercise than men, this could contribute to their increased risk.

However, there are many other social and biological reasons that leave you more susceptible to developing the illness such as having diabetes, age, sleep apnea, genetic factors, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, smoking and obesity.

How Does Alzheimer’s Progress Differently in Men vs. Women?

According to research, when you develop Alzheimer’s disease, your brain effectively shrinks. One study showed that, when comparing the brains of newly diagnosed patients, this atrophy of the brain happens earlier in women than men. Previous to their diagnosis, the scans showed that women had also lost most grey matter in their brains. This suggests that women’s brains generally degenerate faster than men who have the same illness.

However, despite these findings, the male participants appeared to have more issues with their thinking ability compared to their female counterparts. This could be due to the fact that men and women lose grey matter in opposing areas of their brains, which could affect their thought processes differently.

Although this may be the case, Dr. Clinton Wright, scientific director of Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, suggested that it may be too soon to jump to any conclusions about gender differences in Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Clinton Wright went on to suggest that additional information would need to be provided, as there may be other factors causing these results.

If you or a loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s and are looking for some in-home care services, then contact Sova Healthcare today. Our team of experienced and qualified caregivers can offer compassionate home care, domiciliary care and assisted living. With offices in Birmingham, Leicester and Bradford, we can provide home care services across the West Midlands, East Midlands and Yorkshire Regions. Find out how Sova Healthcare can help you today!

Television remains a great way for people to learn about things going on in the world. The right documentary film or series can have a lasting impact on viewers. With the likes of David Attenborough and Louis Theroux regularly presenting popular documentaries and pulling in viewers, it can be a successful medium for shining a light on topics that the public aren’t as knowledgeable about. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are roughly 46.8 million people living with dementia - over 850,000 alone in the UK - which makes it a topic of interest for TV and films.

During May and June, two documentaries looked into the world of dementia in two different ways. Both with the aim of raising the profile of the disease and the people living with it. Sova Healthcare looks at both documentaries to see how successful they are.

Our Dementia Choir With Vicky McClure

Bafta award-winning actress of Line of Duty fame, Vicky McClure, fronted a two-part documentary series which focused on the importance of music and singing for people living with dementia. The show sees McClure work with specialists from medicine, music therapy and performance to help form a choir who will perform in front of an audience.

During the series, scientists combined pioneering techniques with the latest scanning technology to show how music stimulates a brain limited by dementia. The programme aimed to bring together a choir for a performance just three months later.

What was the inspiration for the show?

McClure lost her grandmother to dementia in 2015. During the time she cared for her, McClure became involved with the Alzheimer’s Society where she discovered how music and singing had a positive effect on dementia patients.

Studies have also shown the benefits of music therapy on dementia patients, including Cochrane who found that it improved symptoms of depression and behavioural problems.

Who are the people involved?

The show got twenty people together from McClure’s hometown in the Nottingham area, who all live with dementia. Included in the choir was Betty, 82, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years before. Despite her confused and absent-minded nature, she has retained her singing voice. There’s also Chris, 67, who has fronto-temporal dementia which affects the areas of the brain that control behaviour, personality and language. As the disease continues to take hold, he is becoming more outspoken and badly behaved. Couple Julie and Mick, both have early onset dementia at the ages of 50 and 51, respectively. The youngest of the choir at 31 is Daniel who has a rare genetic form of dementia that resulted in the death of his father at the age of 36. Tragically for Daniel, he’s not expected to reach the same age as his father.

General Reception

The reception to the show was positive. The Guardian in their review of the show reflected how McClure was empathetic while interviewing members of the choir and the rest of the show took the same approach. The dignity of everyone involved remains intact, and it also highlights the true nature of the disease and the harsh reality of dementia.

The show also led to other dementia choirs gaining spotlight in local publications and one GP even called for doctors to prescribe singing over drugs because of the potential health and social benefits.

The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes

The Channel 4 documentary, The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes, first aired on Channel 4 on Wednesday 12th June and explored people with dementia and their working lives. According to iNews, four out of five people in the UK lose their jobs, independence and sometimes their home, when diagnosed with this terminal disease. The documentary, created in collaboration with Alzheimer’s Society UK, set out to challenge this issue to help volunteers rediscover who they used to be.

The producers set 14 volunteers the task of becoming restaurant staff to make viewers think again about the disease. The show followed the journey of the volunteers as they’re put to work and showed many poignant and feel-good moments.

Channel 4’s Head of Features and Formats, Sarah Lazenby, said: “A dementia diagnosis doesn’t, and shouldn’t mean the end of a career. This poignant and timely project aims to open the eyes of employers to the importance of keeping those who live with dementia in work by boosting their confidence and independence.”

Who is in the show?

Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton led a group of volunteers who all have various types of dementia.

  • 23-year-old Jordan Adams who tested positive for Pick’s disease
  • Avril Staunton, 63, a former gynecologist and obstetrician can no longer remember how old she is
  • Legal representative Jacqui Tunnicliff, 61, who had to give up work after dementia damaged her memory
  • Shelley Sheppard, 45, from Nottinghamshire was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s aged 43.
  • Lorayne Burgess, 52, from Kent, who has frontotemporal dementia
  • Former mortgage adviser Sandie Gibbons, 53, from Weston-super-Mare
  • Former Formula 1 mechanic Roger Postance, 64, from Wolverhampton
  • 53-year-old Peter Berry, who owned a saw milling company in Suffolk
  • 62-year-old Sue Strachan, from Herefordshire, who has vascular dementia
  • Former nurse Joy Watson, 60, from Manchester, who has Alzheimer’s
  • Pete Trapani, 67, of Weston-super-Mare who used to be an engineer
  • Sean Blackmore, of Gloucester, who has been living with Parkinson’s disease for five years since he turned 46
  • Steve Vlad, 65, from Bristol, was diagnosed with frontal-temporal dementia and is a former plumber
  • Lesley Morris, 55, of Newport was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2017

What was the inspiration for the show?

A Tokyo pop-up restaurant was created in 2017 with the same premise but the show’s producers decided to supersize the experiment to a fully sized restaurant. The aim of the project is to change the way the public views dementia.

The producers invited a selection of celebrity diners alongside members of the public over a five-week period to test the new staff. The volunteers learned the tricks of the trade for the month before to prepare them for working in a high pressure environment.

General Reception

The reception to the first episode was positive, with many viewers feeling heartbroken on seeing how dementia affected the participant’s ability to complete the work. Tweets compiled by the Daily Mail showed how viewers were shocked that people as young as 23 were struggling with the disease. While some questioned whether it was safe to give dementia patients access to knives and raw meat, the general response was pleased to see the topic being explored, and expressed how they thought people living with dementia shouldn’t be left behind by society. The Huffington Post also echoed that sentiment saying “more needs to be done” for people with dementia.

What's Next for TV and Dementia?

With 1 million people expected to be living with dementia by 2025, it’s vital that the public has a better understanding of the disease. If dementia in its various forms are shown on TV in a dignified way that raises awareness, it’s hoped that it can motivate people to engage as the long search for a cure continues. However, the increased exposure of vulnerable people must be effectively managed.

Sally Copely of the Alzheimer’s Society explained how consent was obtained during the making of Our Dementia Choir:

“We had the ongoing challenge of consent. We had a family sitting in during a meeting with a psychologist, and then every single morning we asked for the volunteer’s consent on camera with the same three questions: ‘Why are you here? What are we filming? Are you happy to be filmed?’

“As long as they could answer those consistently, and the family was happy, we were happy. We then showed it to the contributors and their families before transmission to make sure everyone was fine with how they were represented.”

Both shows had good intention goals that were clear. The UK must invest in people living with dementia, not leave them behind and people must be able to talk about the disease. While it may be frightening to those going through it, a better general understanding can only bring positive results in the future.

For information on Sova Healthcare’s Alzheimer’s care and Dementia care services, please get in touch to see how we can help.

People living with dementia can sometimes exhibit behaviour in ways that can be aggressive. Whether that’s physical or verbal, the actions of the person can be distressing for them and those around them. The nature of the behaviour can lead to friends and family agreeing that their loved one would benefit from professional support such as home care or dementia care.


What is Aggressive Behaviour?

Aggressive behaviour includes:

  • Verbal - screaming, shouting, swearing and making threats.
  • Physical - biting, hitting, hair-pulling, pinching, scratching.

Dementia and anger outbursts can be linked to how the person behaves before the illness developed, however, it has been known for people to develop aggressive behaviour who have never shown such behaviour before in their life.


What Causes Aggressive Behaviour?

Dementia causes pain for the person going through it which brings a need from them to feel comfortable. They also want to talk to people around them, feel engaged and feel well. However, dementia can make it difficult for people to understand their needs and their way of expressing what they want is through violent actions. There are various needs they may have for their aggressive behaviour.

Physical Needs

  • They might be in pain, unwell or discomfort.
  • Side effects of medication - drowsiness can lead to communication issues.
  • The environment is too busy, overwhelming or too hot or cold.
  • Poor eyesight or hearing causes misconceptions.
  • Hallucinations lead to aggressive behaviour.
  • Dementia affects judgement and self control.
  • Lack of understanding for their behaviour.

Social Needs

  • The person may feel lonely and not included or valued.
  • They might be bored with not much to do.
  • The person might not like their care professional.
  • They could be hiding their condition from others.

Psychological Needs

  • A feeling of their needs and rights not being respected or are being ignored. This can be down to their own misperceptions, memory difficulties or problems.
  • A feeling of being stopped from doing what they want.
  • Frustration with being unable to complete simple tasks.
  • Depression or other mental health issues.
  • Misunderstanding of why they have a person caring for them. They could feel that the carer is invading their space.
  • Finding it difficult to accept that carers are helping them with intimate tasks such as washing, dressing and going to the toilet.
  • Feeling threatened by a strange or unfamiliar environment.
  • Lack of understanding of the world around them.


How to Deal with Aggressive Dementia Patients

It's difficult to respond to aggressive behaviour, but you must take time to think of your loved one and why they might be behaving aggressively. It’s likely they aren’t doing it on purpose and reasoning with them is unlikely to lead them to change their behaviour.

Here are tips for things you can do and avoid doing while the person is behaving aggressively.

During the Aggressive Episode

  • Don’t react straight away. Take a breath and give the person space and time. Leave the room until you’re both feeling calmer.
  • Stay calm. Meeting aggression with an angry response will make the situation worse.
  • Ensure your safety. Never tolerate violence against yourself.
  • If they are being physically violent, try not to show any fear, alarm or anxiety. Walk away from the situation and call for help.
  • Reassure the person and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Don’t take aggressive behaviour personally as this is likely their way of trying to communicate with you of an issue they may have. Listen to what they have to say and mirror their body language if possible.
  • Keep eye contact with the person to explain why you are there. Encourage the person to openly communicate with you.
  • Are you supporting the person with a task? Does it need to be completed now? It's good to stop, give them space and try again later when you’re both calmer.

After the Episode

It’s easy to blame the person for their aggressive behaviour but they are unlikely to have done it on purpose. If you treat your loved one differently, they will not understand why you are. Carry on as normal and be reassuring to them. You must remember to focus on the person and not their behaviour - they’re still the person you care about.

If you’re struggling with the emotions of dealing with an aggressive episode, talk to friends, family or even your GP or counsellor. The professional carers at Sova Healthcare are also happy to discuss your feelings with them if need be. Without this support network, you can focus on the behaviour and not the person you care for.


Managing Aggressive Behaviour

Aggressive behaviour can be prevented in those suffering with dementia by following a few steps:

  1. Identify the problem - Consider all factors for their behaviour from the environment to the situation you’re in.

  2. Analyse the situation - Where and when does the problem happen? Is it usual for them to act this way? Are visitors involved?

  3. Focus on how the person feels when behaving aggressively - Are they unwell, uncomfortable or in pain? Tired? Delusional? Bored?

  4. Identify what the person is reacting to - Are they reacting to a bad incident? Are they scared of something? Has something changed? Has a memory returned to them?

  5. Have a behaviour management strategy - Develop a range of techniques that will keep the behaviour down to a minimum. Try different things to work out what is best for you and them.

Aggressive behaviour shown by a loved one going through dementia is difficult to contend with emotionally, but with the right strategies and support around you it will be okay. Sova Healthcare can provide a fresh approach to home care services. With various options available for your loved one - including domiciliary care - we can help with taking care of your loved one with specialist dementia care services. For more information, get in touch with us today.

dementia centre to create home tech

Advancements in technology have various benefits in everyday life. From wi-fi, smartphones and AI assistants, our lives are becoming more linked to these devices. As the smart home continues to develop, one centre is soon to open which is dedicated to creating technological solutions to support dementia patients and their home carers.

What Is The Aim of the Centre?

Based at the Imperial College London White City campus, the UK Dementia Research Institute’s Care Research and Technology Centre is part of a multi-partner collaboration. The centre is expected to cost £20m to run with funding coming from the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. Their aim is to develop a system that can be used by dementia sufferers which combine the use of AI, robotics, sensors, sleep trackers and infection testing. It will be designed so the technology doesn’t interfere with the patient’s everyday life, creating homes that are friendly to dementia sufferers.

Professor David Sharp, a neurologist at Imperial College London who is head of the centre said, “The vision for this centre is to use patient-centred technology to help people affected by dementia to live better and for longer in their own homes.”

technological solutions for dementia patients

How Will an EEG Help Dementia Patients?

The EEG (electroencephalogram) device they want to create will fit in the ear of a patient which will then monitor brain activity fluctuations with radar technology used to track movements within the home. The sensors will identify any changes in the behaviour of patients which have the potential to put them in hospital. Changes include a new walking pattern that might lead to a fall or increases in body temperature which is likely to suggest an infection.

EEG device for dementia patients

The results from the monitoring can then be sent to doctors or nurses early if potential problems are arising. The monitoring can also give a holistic overview of a patient, as the data can help better understand the effect of drug treatments and patient wellbeing.

The technology will also be able to track sleep quality of the patient, which is hard to track in the home. Sleep disturbance is a huge problem for dementia patients. The centre wants to create motion sensors that can be fitted to beds to track sleep. The information gathered might improve the quality of sleep for patients.

The technology developed will be assessed by people living with dementia and their carers. This will ensure the technology is both practical and needed by patients.

Why Are Technological Solutions Needed?

With over 700,000 dementia sufferers in the UK and 850,000 expected by 2021, solutions need to be found to reduce the number of dementia patients going into hospitals and help improve their quality of life.

Sharp commented on dementia patients and hospital beds saying, “Latest figures suggest one in four hospital beds are occupied by people with dementia – and 20 percent of these admissions are due to preventable causes such as falls, dehydration and infections. The new technologies we develop will improve our ability to support people in their homes. They will allow us to intervene at an early stage, to prevent the crises that so often lead to hospital stays or a move to a care home. What’s more, we’ll be able to improve our understanding of dementia onset and progression.”

For dementia patients, a trip to or stay in a hospital can be a very stressful experience. If a doctor can monitor a patient remotely successfully, this will reduce the need for those trips to take place. A doctor can then react to anything concerning if they need to.

How Much Will The Technology Cost Patients?

While the centre hopes various off-the-shelf technologies will be available for free through the NHS, some sensors could cost as little as £10.

When Will The Centre Be Open?

The centre will open on 1st June 2019. However, scientists already involved in the project have developed storage technologies that are safe robust, so all personal data of patients is secure.

Any technology that can support dementia patients and their carers is welcomed. It will be interesting to see how the technology develops once the centre has opened. The importance of dementia care services within the home remains, an extra layer of technological support can truly create a ‘Healthy Home’.

For more information on our dementia care services, please contact Sova Healthcare today.