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Can telephone counseling help people with dementia?

answered 02:52 PM EST, Mon May 14, 2012
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anonymous anonymous
Is counseling at all beneficial for a person who has dementia? My 76 year old mom is still living at home with my dad but she is clearly losing her capacities and it is a lot for my dad to handle. One of the biggest problems I think is that my mom is feeling a lot of anxiety and depression because of her illness and possibly because of other reasons as well (?) and this coupled with her forgetfulness makes it really hard for her, as well as for him, as a primary caregiver to her.

To make matters a little worse, my dad no longer drives and it is difficult for me to get over to see them during office hours. If therapy is something that might be helpful to her, I was wondering if therapy over the phone might work (the internet is not really an option here). I am imagining that having a trained ear listed to her problems and suggest solutions might put her mind at ease, but maybe this is stretching the capabilities of distance therapy too far?

I guess this is 2 questions. Is therapy helpful for a person with dementia who has anxiety and depression issues? And if so, can that therapy be delivered over the telephone effectively?

Art Matthews Says...

First of all, I deeply sympathize with your situation. I lost my own mother after a nearly 15 year struggle with Alzheimer's Disease.

For most forms of talk therapy to be effective, the client must possess the capacity to communicate, reason and reflect. Depending on the level that her dementia has reached, your mother may receive good to very little benefit from talk therapy whether face-to-face or via telephone. There is good evidence that it might be very beneficial for your father (See http://alzheimersweekly.com/content/counseling-helps-dementia-caregivers-and-patients-alike and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2836858/).

If your mother's memory and cognitive capacity is relatively intact, talk therapy might be helpful in allowing her to process some of her feelings and beliefs. Check out this resource from the Alzheimer's Society of the UK on the use of psychotherapy with people with dementia.

There have also been research studies on counseling for dementia that have incorporated telephonic components which showed benefit for the treatment of mood disorders associated with dementia. A local counseling center near you may have in-home therapists who can add the component of frequent phone conversations in between sessions as additional support. The most important thing to remember is the need to match your mother and her level of functioning to a therapist with experience, training and education in distance counseling and treating people with dementia and cognitive decline.

The kinds of therapy that are most beneficial for dementia sufferers includes face-to-face supportive (validation) therapy, creative and expressive activity therapies, and group programs that are appropriate for their level of social ability and cognitive functioning. Here is more on Validation Therapy that even you and your dad can use in your conversations with mom.

To begin a search for programs near you, check with your local or regional office of the Area Agency on Aging and see if there are programs near your father and mother that might provide in-home services or services where transportation is possible. Services might include respite for the care-takers, adult day-care programs with transportation, dementia support groups with transportation, and caretaker support groups with transportation.

The Visiting Nurses Association might also be a good resource for you along with the Alzheimer's Foundation. Also check into finding an occupational therapist who specializes in gerontology and dementia. Occupational therapists are often misunderstood. Their therapeutic goal involves helping a person reach a higher level of functioning and can include a wide variety of interventions that might be outside the traditional psychotherapist's or counselor's repertoire. Here is an article on more of the benefits of occupational therapy for dementia patients and their care-givers.

Both you and your father need to make sure you are taking care of yourselves. It isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. By taking care of you, you are able to better care for your mom. To find local programs supporting the elderly and caregivers, go to the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging at eldercare.gov or call 800-677-1116.

All my best.

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Page last updated May 14, 2012

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