People with Alzheimer’s are languishing in care homes and being given excessive drugs in treatment programmes reminiscent of the Victorian approach to mental illness, a leading researcher claims.
John Zeisel, a sociologist specialising in neuroscience, said the way that sufferers of the disease were cared for in Britain required an overhaul. There needed to be greater emphasis on activities to stimulate engagement and improve language skills, such as day trips to the seaside, painting and community activities.
“There needs to be far more non-pharmacological treatment that must be built on people’s capacity — building on the skills that are left, not just trying to fix the functions that people have been robbed of,” he told The Times. “Otherwise, we leave people to languish in settings that do nothing for them, have no meaning, and they just wilt away.”
Describing the approach to Alzheimer’s as woefully outdated, Dr Zeisel said that it could be compared to the way that epilepsy or autism was viewed in the 19th century. “People with Alzheimer’s should not be continually confined to their homes, to hospitals or to care homes.”
Dr Zeisel, who spoke yesterday at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival , said that there was far too great a reliance on drugs in treatment. He said that use of visits to art galleries or theatres in the US had shown a marked effect on reducing anxiety and aggression in patients and improving engagement and language skills.
Dr Zeisel is president of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, which has seven care homes in the New York and Boston areas. He was speaking with the psychiatrist Simon Lovestone and Pat Boyes, who cared for her husband Roland, who was the Labour MP for Houghton and Washington. He died in 2006, 11 years after Alzheimer’s disease had been diagnosed. Mrs Boyes said: “It was a no-hoper but I was married to him for 49 years and he needed looking after. We took on one hurdle after the next. I wanted to keep him safe.”
There are 700,000 people living with dementia in Britain, with the number expected to double within a generation.
A report for the Alzheimer’s Society, published today, suggests that concern about the overreliance on anti-psychotic drugs in dementia care is well founded. About 20 per cent of all prescriptions for dementia in the year to last October were for anti-psychotic drugs.
The report, conducted by the IMS healthcare consultancy and published today in GP magazine, found that prescribing varied across England, with 21 per cent of dementia patients in the North West receiving the drugs, compared with 14 per cent of those in the South West.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said that as part of its dementia strategy it wanted to see better training for GPs in diagnosing the condition, and the creation of dementia advisers to help families to obtain the right care for sufferers. “It is always our goal to allow people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, but where residential care is needed, some homes provide excellent care and stimulation for people. We want to see this become the norm.”
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