Having a chat can be enough to lift the spirits of someone with dementia

Those of us who have, or have had, daily contact with someone with dementia cast about for ways of helping them.

But it turns out something as simple as talking could be a real benefit – talking therapies in particular, say researchers at University College, London. Therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) which aims to help people change their behaviour, attitudes and way of thinking.

Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are common in people with dementia, and 40% of people with mild dementia are affected. This new research is the first to assess whether talking therapies available on the NHS might help to relieve symptoms.

Researchers examined data from 2,515,402 people who had significant anxiety or depression and completed a free course of treatment via the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service in England between 2012 and 2019.

The researchers looked at 1,549 people who had dementia before starting IAPT treatment and used a control group of 1,329 people without dementia. Nearly two thirds of people with dementia saw a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety, following IAPT. Moreover, approximately 40% recovered completely.

Comparatively, in the control group, 70% of participants saw an improvement in symptoms and 47% recovered. This isn’t surprising as you’d expect people without dementia to respond well to talking therapy.

Lead author Georgia Bell of University College, London said: “Anxiety and depression are very common in people with dementia. They are extremely debilitating and associated with worse outcomes for both the person with dementia and their carers.

“This is the largest ever study to investigate outcomes of psychological therapies in people living with dementia. Our findings suggest that while people with dementia are less likely to improve or recover than those without dementia, psychological therapies offered in primary care mental health services can be beneficial for them.”

Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This Alzheimer’s Society-funded research is the first study looking at the effectiveness of therapy for people living with dementia in a real-world setting.

“It showed that people living with dementia showed a significant improvement in symptoms of anxiety and depression when treated with therapy, even though their response wasn’t as strong as that shown in the general population.”

Personally I find the results of this research helpful in managing a relationship with someone with dementia. Often we’re at our wits end trying to cope, and knowing 20 minutes of chat helps would help me as well.