A new U.K. study has identified primary psychological factors that can help dementia patients and their caregivers live their best lives.

“People with dementia have the right to live well, but without clear definition it can be hard to determine what ‘living well’ really means,” said Dr. James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society,  a U.K. care and research charity for dementia patients and their caregivers.

“After looking at several factors, the IDEAL program has found that psychological health has the biggest impact on people affected by dementia living well,” he said.

The study involved 1,547 people diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia and 1,283 caregivers. Both patients and caregivers provided ratings of their quality of life in relation to dementia and overall health. The research was conducted within the “Improving the experience of Dementia and Enhancing Active Life” (IDEAL) cohort.

The research team, led by the University of Exeter, found that a wide range of factors can play a role in living well.

In particular, psychological aspects, such as optimism, self-esteem and whether a person has experienced loneliness and depression, are all closely linked to the ability to optimize quality of life and well-being in both people with dementia and caregivers. Physical health and fitness, social activity and interaction are also very important for both groups.

Among dementia patients, one’s social situation and ability to manage everyday life played key roles in well-being. For caregivers, feeling trapped or isolated were major factors that reduced quality of life.

“Too many people face dementia alone without adequate support, and interventions that improve self-esteem, challenge negative perceptions towards ageing and reduce depression or loneliness could all help improve the psychological health of people affected,” Pickett said.

“It’s so important to find ways for the 50 million people worldwide who have dementia to live as well as possible,” said lead author Professor Linda Clare, of the University of Exeter, who also leads the IDEAL study.

“Our research sheds new light on what factors play a key role in maximizing factors such as well-being and quality of life. This must now translate into better ways to support people with dementia.”

The findings offer specific guidance on where we should focus efforts to help people live as well as possible with dementia, said coauthor Dr. Anthony Martyr from the University of Exeter.

“For example, looking at how we can help people with dementia to avoid depression or stay physically and socially active,” he said.

“For carers, it could involve strengthening community ties and building strong networks. We now need to develop and research programs to establish what really works in these areas.”

The findings are published in the journal Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders.

Source: University of Exeter