Expert brings drug free dementia treatment to University of Regina

A Toronto-based expert with a new vision for engaging people with dementia will bring his message to the University of Regina tonight.  

"We are not being very realistic about how we look at people as they get dementia," said University of Toronto professor Mark Chignell. "We really don't engage them in a way that's helpful to them."

It's one of the reasons that 25 per cent of Canadians suffering from dementia in long-term care facilities are given anti-psychotic drugs to control aggressive behavior, which Chignell said is largely a product of boredom.

That's why Chignell is trying a different approach.

"We want to make people more active we want to give people a better quality of life and this requires giving them purpose and giving them activities they can perform because there simply aren't enough people to give them one to one care," he told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition.

Engage with play and custom content 

Chignell has developed a variety of technologies, one that improves behaviour by engaging people with customized activities and content, everything from cat videos to old hockey games and news. Although, this is cutting edge research, Chignell said it's presented to dementia sufferers in a familiar way.

"It looks like an old time radio, so it's designed to be very comfortable for the target population."

There is also a series of games that can be played on a tablet to measure cognitive status, something Chignell said rarely happens in long-term care facilities.

"The problem is you don't know whether a person is declining after you give them a certain kind of anti-psychotic drug, so I believe it should be routinely measured."

The games are simple and enjoyable. For example, dementia sufferers might be asked to match objects, similar to games that would be designed for young children.  

"We used to talk about second childhood and as people start losing functions and cognitive status they tend to return to an earlier way of interacting with things," Chignell said.

Right now, Chignell is doing a study in six long-term care homes in Ontario. So far, he said there seems to be evidence that his approach work.

Chignell will talk about his findings at the University of Regina this evening at 6:00 p.m. CST in room 110 in the Classroom Building.