Image courtesy of Myles Pritchard
Image courtesy of Myles Pritchard

Changing the minds of dementia patients

“I’m ecstatic about the impact our programs have on kids, and knowing that we’ve changed their lives for the better. But we need to ask ‘what about our retirees?’” says Professor Ron Rapee, ARC Laureate Fellow, and former Director of the Centre for Emotional Health.

Retirees are less likely to suffer from mental health problems but they still develop anxiety and depression – and there’s increasing evidence these conditions are risk factors for dementia.

To make things worse, they’re often left untreated as there’s a perception that it’s normal for older people to suffer depression as they lose their friends, health and independence.

But this does not have to be the case according to Dr Viviana Wuthrich from the Centre for Emotional Health, who has developed a tailored cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) program for the over-sixties called Ageing Wisely.

“If I can teach a seven-year-old to cope with anxiety, surely I can teach those same skills to a 70-year-old,” she says.

Two clinical trials have shown the program is effective, and leads to faster improvements than their control group who participated in more social activities.

Now they’re tackling dementia.

Some of the most significant, and modifiable, risks for dementia include low physical activity, low social and mental stimulation, depression and anxiety.

“When I heard this, I thought ‘I can help,’” Viviana says.

“I have a program that can treat anxiety and depression, and I’m sure we can also do something about the other lifestyle factors too.”

She’s developed a new pilot program to include all of these factors, which is achieving encouraging results and hopes to expand the program in the near future.

This article was originally published on Stories of Australian Science and is republished with permission.