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Just an Hour of Social Time a Week Makes a Difference in Dementia

Mary Caffrey
The British study found that just an hour a week of added social interaction, and letting patients have a say in their care plan, reduced agitation and improved quality of life for Alzheimer's patients. This method also reduced costs, which has implications for Medicare as the Alzheimer's populaton is expected to grow in Medicare.
The classic volunteer activity of spending time with seniors in a nursing home isn’t for naught, a new study has found.

Just an hour a week of social interaction can boost quality of life and reduces agitation for people living with dementia—and it saves money, too.

Those are the findings of a large trial from the United Kingdom, conducted by several universities and the National Health Service Foundation Trust. Results were presented this weekend at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

More than 800 patients with dementia in nursing homes across London and Buckinghamshire were evaluated in the study. Two specially trained staff members at each home were trained to talk to the patients about their interests, and to help them make decisions about their own care. Combined with an hour a week of social interaction, it made a difference, the researchers reported.

“People with dementia who are living in care homes are among the most vulnerable in our society,” said Clive Ballard, MB, ChB, MD, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the study.

“Incredibly, of the 170 career training manuals available on the market, only 4 are based on evidence that really work. Our outcomes show that good staff training and just 1 hour a week of social interaction significantly improves lives.”

Ballard said it was essential that all residents of nursing homes living with dementia receive the level of care examined in the study. Doug Brown, director of research for the Alzheimer’s Society, agreed.

“We know that a person-centered approach that takes each individual’s unique qualities, abilities, interests, preferences, and needs into account can improve care,” he said. “This study shows that

training to provide this type of institutionalized care, along with activities and social interactions, has a significant impact on the well-being of people living with dementia in care homes.” Brown also pointed out the opportunity for savings.

While the study took place in the United Kingdom, it has implications for the United States, where people over age 85 are the fastest growing population group. Alzheimer’s currently affects 5.5 million but is expected to affect 13.8 million by 2050. The CDC reported a 54.5% increase in the death rate from the disease in the United States between 1999 and 2014. The increase is occuring alongside rising rates of obesity and diabetes, which are known to be connected to Alzheimer's. 

 
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