Helping people with learning disabilities to access non-drug treatments for dementia symptoms

Lead Investigator: Dr Karen Watchman

Institution: University of Stirling

Grant type: Implementation

Duration: 36 months

Amount: £186,171

Scientific Title: Life through a lens: participatory action research to collaboratively implement non-pharmacological interventions with people who have a learning disability and dementia.

Why did we fund this project?

Comments from members of our Research Network:

'I think that non-pharmacological interventions extremely important for all those with dementia given previous research which has shown the dangers of drug use to treat behavioural problems.'

'This under- researched group of dementia patients are often ignored or overlooked. Yet, with an increasing high risk of dementia with longer life spans, this is increasingly important.'

'The reasoning for this project is very well explained. As there are many people with many different types of learning disability who are living longer now as compared to twenty years ago, to know how and when dementia will manifest itself in them, I feel is very important.'

What do we already know?

People with learning disabilities such as Down's syndrome are now living longer thanks to improved understanding and treatment of their conditions. People with Down's syndrome are at higher risk of dementia and so there is likely to be an increase in the number of people living with both conditions. 

There is growing interest in finding ways to help people with dementia to manage symptoms like depression, anxiety and agitation without the aid of drug treatments. However, there is little evidence as to how to help people with a learning disability and dementia to access non-drug treatments and few strategies to help with symptoms of dementia.

What does this project involve?

This project aims to help people with learning disabilities to access non-drug treatments that may help them to manage some of their dementia symptoms. There are certain strategies that have been tested in people with dementia that have been shown to be effective, but these have not been tried for people with learning disabilities. 

The project aims to understand whether use of certain methods such as music, technology and changes to signage and the environment in services and care homes can help people with learning disabilities. The researchers will make use of an existing resource that they developed, called Jenny's Diary, which helps people with learning disabilities to communicate about dementia. 

The researchers will test these ideas on small groups of people who are affected by both conditions so find out whether any or all of them can be of benefit.  

How will this benefit people with dementia?

People with learning disabilities are increasingly being affected by dementia. Evidence-based strategies and methods to help people with both conditions to cope and manage their symptoms are important to maintain or improve their well-being and that of their carers and family.