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It is very important that people with dementia remain part of society as much as possible. This is shown by a study (In German) in Germany. The scientists conclude that dementia patients who are cared for in their familiar environment and who are socially integrated have a better disease progression. The Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (DZNE) study investigated the effect of various measures in treating people with dementia.

Why we write about this topic:

Dementia is a disease that affects more and more people. Significant innovation is needed for symptom relief and ultimately, healing.

How to deal with Alzheimer’s disease is important because of the large number of patients in the Netherlands. There are currently 290.000 people with dementia in the Netherlands. Stichting Alzheimer Nederland (In Dutch) expects that there will be approximately 620.000 dementia patients in the Netherlands by 2050. This makes dementia the fastest-growing cause of death in the Netherlands.

Results

The results of the study show that regular social contacts have a positive effect on dementia symptoms. The individual’s living environment plays an important role in this. A living environment in which social interaction regularly takes place helps people with dementia. Acceptance and integration in society can also have a positive effect on the progression of the disease.

The researchers write that society needs projects that stimulate positive social contacts for people with dementia. “The study confirms that the psychosocial factors are extremely important,” says Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hoffmann, who works at DZNE’s Rostock site. “This applies to both the quality of life of people with dementia and their autonomy and social participation. If these psychosocial factors are reinforced, this positively affects the progression of the disease.

Kitwood’s flower

Dinant Bekkenkamp, team leader of scientific research at Alzheimer Nederland, does not find the results of the study very surprising. “Alzheimer’s treatment has been moving for some time in a direction where the consensus is that we shouldn’t put the disease so central to its treatment.”

Bekkenkamp explains that the findings in this study are in line with Kitwood’s flower, a theory by scientist Tom Kitwood in which receiving love is central. “Like any other person, an Alzheimer’s patient needs love. Comfort, identity, being busy, belonging somewhere. These are all important pillars to take into account during treatment. This also includes attachment. It’s important for people with Alzheimer’s to have trusted relationships.”

Kitwood's flower ©ZorgBeter
Kitwood’s flower ©ZorgBeter

Innovation needed

That is why innovations that stimulate positive social contacts for people with dementia currently seem to be the best way forward. Wang Long Li of start-up Tinybots has already put his ideas into practice. By developing a robot that can communicate with people with dementia, he helps with this social interaction. “We developed the entire software together with patients. This allows our Tinybot to provide appropriate interaction in as many stages of the disease as possible. We make sure that communication is adapted to the person’s condition.”

New medication?

A drug called Lecanemab has recently been approved in the United States that can slow down Alzheimer’s disease. However, doctors believe that the drug’s side effects can prove to be too much for the patient’s quality of life. In mild cases, patients may experience a fever or headache, but serious complications such as cerebral hemorrhage also occur. Admission of Lecanemab in the Netherlands is therefore uncertain.

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