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 Occupational Therapy May Not Reduce Decline In Patients With AD: Study

A new study suggests that occupational therapy isn’t likely to improve everyday functioning or reduce functional decline among individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), although it can help reduce perceived burdens on caregivers.
The study, conducted by researchers at Indiana University, involved 180 community-dwelling individuals with AD receiving collaborative care for dementia. Patients in an intervention group also received in-home occupational therapy (OT) delivered in 24 sessions over two years. At the study’s end, researchers could not definitively link the OT to a slower rate of functional decline. Read more at
The results were disappointing, said lead author Christopher Callahan, MD, professor and director of the Indiana University Center for Aging Research. “We anticipated that OT would enable families to keep patients more engaged physically and socially while strengthening muscles and minds. But we weren’t able to demonstrate this.”

While they weren’t able to document a change in caregiver stress, Callahan notes that caregivers perceived that OT helped quality of life for them and their loved ones. “It’s important to remember that both study groups were getting collaborative care, and we know that this improves quality of life and reduces caregiver stress,” he says.
There is still a role for OT in individuals with AD, Callahan says. “If a provider is thinking about ordering OT for someone with Alzheimer’s, this study actually doesn’t encourage or discourage them.” Instead, he suggests that providers consider the value of OT on a case-by-case basis.  “It makes perfect sense to use OT to enhance quality of life,” he says.
Interestingly, a recent study from French researchers suggests that patients with dementia actually benefit from occupational therapy sessions. This study involved a three-month OT intervention for patients with dementia and follow-up three and six months later. They found that many patients remained cognitively and functionally stable over time and that behavioral issues were significantly reduced.  Read more about this study at
Callahan says that these results show the need for further study in this area. “There continues to be a lot of disappointing results in research about treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, and sometimes providers think that there isn’t anything to offer. But we are learning more all the time.” He adds, “Learning what doesn’t work takes us closer to finding out what does.”
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