Occupational therapy may not delay Alzheimer's decline, SNF admission

Occupational therapy may not help slow down physical decline associated with Alzheimer's disease or delay the need for nursing home admission, research published Tuesday indicated.

Teams at the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and the Regenstrief Institute studied whether home-based occupational therapy helped the physical decline of people with Alzheimer's disease.

One cohort of patients and their informal caregivers received visits from occupational therapists over the course of two years. The therapy was designed to meet each patient's' individual needs, and honed in on caregiver-identified issues such as bathing.

At the end of the study period, both the group that received therapy and the one that hadn't received the services showed similar declines in functional living scores. The findings contradict previous, smaller-scale studies that occupational therapy may help stave off dementia's effects, said lead researcher Christopher Callahan, M.D., in a news release.

"The participants in the study declined both mentally and functionally as the neurodegeneration of the brain continued,” Callahan said. “This is a disappointing outcome because previously published, but shorter-term studies had suggested these interventions might be able to slow the physical decline that leads to nursing home placement."

While Alzheimer's-associated functional decline may be “irreversible,” people with the disease and their caregivers could still turn to assistive technologies, home modifications and community services to stay in their homes as long as possible, Callahan noted.

Results of the study were published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.