Physicians Have Major Role in Helping Dementia Patients, Caregivers

As brain function changes with dementia, things that were easy and straightforward for the patient can become difficult and frustrating.

“We not only need to help with the illness part of dementia, we also need to educate, counsel, coach and guide the patient,” said Geriatric Psychiatrist and Medical Director of the CHI Health Behavioral Service Line Arun Sharma, MD. “In short, we generate hope that with proper support, dementia can be managed.”

Helping the patient and the caregiver also means adapting to changing brain function. “We need to modify activities and expectations,” Sharma said, “to help them negotiate their day in a safe manner.”

For example, the sleep-awake cycle may be interrupted. “One approach to the interruption is we structure the day with activities,” he said. These might include music, pets, art and craft work. “This helps stimulate areas of the brain that might be active and functioning well.”

Activities also make the individual feel valued and help improve quality of life.

“These activities even have the potential to reduce depression, anxiety, agitation or other behavioral disturbances that can come with dementia,” Sharma said. “Although patients may not be able to verbalize how they feel and think, we believe their capacity to experience basic human emotions such as love, happiness and sadness is intact.”

Arun Sharma, MD

Psychiatry,
Psychiatry Adult