A non-drug intervention to prevent depression in early-stage dementia

Read about a research project we funded into IDEA Intervention to prevent Depressive symptoms and promote wellbeing in Early stage dementia development and feasibility.

Lead applicant: Dr Vasiliki Orgeta
Institution: University College London
Grant type: Senior Fellowship
Amount awarded: £315,295
Duration: 4 years

Why did we fund this project?

Comments from our Research Network:

'It is important to look at alternatives to prescribing medication to treat depressive symptoms. It is difficult to know whether symptoms are linked to depression or AD. This will be useful to help make this decision.'

'This is a very important area depression is a real part of the early stages of dementia for both patient and carer...The researcher is very well qualified to carry out the project which will also advance their understanding of this aspect of dementia.'

What do we already know?

People with dementia are at a higher risk of depressive symptoms, sadness and loss of enjoyment of life. This hinders their ability to perform everyday activities even more, poses them at risk of going to a care home earlier than they otherwise would have, and affects their quality of life. There are currently no known effective treatments as medications such as anti-depressants are ineffective and have significant side effects. We therefore must find other ways to prevent and treat depressive symptoms in people with dementia.

What does the project involve?

This study aims to develop a non-drug intervention to prevent depressive symptoms in people with early-stage dementia. Dr Orgeta will bring together all theoretical knowledge about depression in dementia and talk to families and people with dementia about their ideas to develop a new intervention. The intervention will be planned in a way that meets their needs closely, offering strategies and support to cope with depressive symptoms. It will be developed by combining evidence from studies using similar interventions for depression in older people, and by consulting people with dementia, their carers, and professionals who support them. 

Dr Orgeta will then find out whether this intervention is feasible and acceptable. Sixty people with dementia and their carers will try out the intervention with the support of a graduate psychologist. This study will find out how feasible it is to recruit people with dementia and their families to take part, and how many sessions participants are able to complete. This information will be used to help with the design of a definitive trial in the UK.

How will this benefit people with dementia?

A person with both dementia and depression will be struggling with two lots of difficulties. They may find it even harder to remember things and may be more confused or withdrawn. Depression may also worsen behavioural changes in people with dementia, causing aggression, problems sleeping or refusal to eat. In the later stages of dementia, depression tends to show itself in the form of depressive 'signs', such as tearfulness and weight loss.

Current anti-depressant drugs are not effective in dementia and have serious side effects. An evidence-based non-drug therapy could make a significant improvement in the quality of life for many people with dementia.

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