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Social Engagement is Essential for Older Adults with Severe Dementia

Dementia is a serious group of cognitive conditions that promotes progressive deterioration in cognition, increased apathy, and reduced level of physical functioning.  Many older adults, especially those living in long-term care settings such as those in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, suffer from dementia. According to recent reports, more than half of the elderly nursing home population suffer from symptoms of agitation and almost 40% suffer from depressed mood.  These findings are highly similar to those of international studies that have explored the prevalence of neuropsychiatric symptoms expressed in nursing home patients with dementia.  Specifically, they found that the prevalence of neuropsychiatric symptoms significantly increases with severe dementia.  Therefore, it is no surprise that substantial evidence has proven that there is a strong association between dementia’s symptoms of depression and behavioral disorders and decreased quality of life.

Many observational studies in nursing homes found that elderly residents with severe dementia rarely engaged in any activity for more than half of their time awake.  Researchers presume that such inactivity could result in social withdrawal and diminished quality of life.  In older adults with severe dementia, the experience of chronic apathy is common, making it challenging for them to engage in meaningful activities.  Thus, participating in activities that increase quality of life in nursing home residents with dementia are highly recommended.  This is supported by studies that have found that people with dementia benefit from engaging in pleasant activities.  Studies have also shown that it is imperative that nursing staff encourage and facilitate dementia residents in positive activities due to the fact that these experiences can increase positive effects in patients, thereby enhancing quality of life.

Recently, researchers have been testing a non-pharmacological approach to enhance the quality of life of nursing home patients with dementia. Specifically, interventions using Paro, a seal robot, have shown a moderate to high clinical influence on patients’ quality of life.  Although not many studies have examined the effectiveness of using emotional robots, strong evidence has shown that these robots are capable of improving mood and decreasing loneliness, thereby enhancing quality of life.

A recent study aimed to examine the effect a robot-assisted group activity for nursing home patients with dementia had on quality of life, as well as whether the severity of dementia in patients influenced the possible effects.

Paro is a robotic baby seal that is specifically designed to help patients with dementia.  Its head, arms, and tail swivel and its speakers mimic the sounds of an actual baby harp seal.  The robot is sophisticated, adaptive, and equipped with artificial intelligence software.  Paro responds to recognized voices and interacts with its users by using the sensors implanted in its artificial fur.  For example, repetitive motions, such as stroking, stimulates Paro’s sensors and initiates a response.

The study found that the Paro intervention had a significant effect on the quality of life of patients with severe dementia.  However, there was no significant difference in quality of life for patients with mild to moderate dementia.  It is also important to note that the participants who engaged in the Paro intervention also relied on psychotropic drugs significantly less than those who were in the control group.

The study’s findings show that older adults with severe dementia who engage in pleasant activity that is facilitated by nursing staff, such as group activity with Paro, can enhance quality of life.  It is crucial that nursing staff provide opportunities for social engagement for their patients.  If you or a loved one has experienced neglect or elder abuse while under the care of long-term facility staff, such as those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Duarte and El Monte, California, please call The Law Offices of Ben Yeroushalmi, today. We are a team of experts and attorneys that specialize in elder law and are dedicated to protecting the rights of vulnerable older adults.