I've been attending a masterclass by the National Intellectual Disability Memory Service. The latest session looked at Cognitive Stimulation Therapy for Dementia, with a focus on specialised services for people with intellectual disability.
Gunnar Scheibner (clinical psychologist at St Michael's House) gave a brief introduction to CST. It is a brief psychosocial intervention developed by Aimee Spector to improve or at least maintain cognition and mood. It combines elements of different approaches (e.g. reminiscence therapy, art therapy). It's recommended that it's conducted in small groups (ideally no more than 6 clients taking part). Scheibner pointed out that it's very cost effective; CST does not require much equipment (e.g. some means of playing music, art materials, often available already in care settings), don't need to have highly trained staff. (However, Professor Mary McCarron did mention that a certain level of group facilitating skills are important.)
CST is particularly interesting for people with intellectual disability, who are more likely to develop dementia, particularly people who have Down syndrome. However, the current data is very limited for this particular population. Some work by Orrell et al. found a positive impact on family relationships, but not on cognitive functioning. Shannahan found some improvements in cognitive functioning in people with intellectual disability but without dementia.
Pauline Smyth, from the Brothers of Charity Roscommon, described how her team were working with clients who were living with dementia. Her team became interested in CST and they wanted to find an evidenced-based, post-diagnostic support for people with dementia. Smyth emphasised that CST should be delivered in the context of good person-centred care, and cited the importance of social inclusion - the CST group can be an opportunity for social connection.
For people with intellectual disability in particular, it's better to have smaller groups than with general population, probably no more than 4, also allow greater amount of time per session (e.g. don't want to rush for creative activities). Important to have knowledge of people's preferences (e.g. what music/hobbies they like, their ability/willingness to continue with the sessions for their duration). For cognitive stimulation, Smyth advised to be careful not to put any individual on the spot; rather, it's important to have a fun/enjoyable atmosphere, and to try to avoid school-like vibe. Consistent with the point about social connection, she said it is worth being vigilant that people are included (e.g. someone might be under-engaged, but could benefit from another participant pairing up with them). For reminiscence, care is required not to push people into talking about painful memories (notwithstanding there can be good and bad in broader memories).
Dr Janette Tyrell emphasised the importance of using non-pharmacological approaches such as CST (notwithstanding the utility of medications such as those targeting acetylcholinesterase etc.). In her clinical opinion, the more services use techniques like CST that keep people active, the less you see the negative behavioural manifestations of dementia. During the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, a lot of people have had opportunities for cognitive stimulation reduced, so it was positive to note that a lot of people are doing activities online at this time. The pandemic does seem to have motivated more people with intellectual disability to get more involved in using platforms like ZOOM.
A question was raised about running CST with people who have more advanced dementia. Gunnar Scheibner cited a PhD student was who is doing work in this area, and the results will be interesting to see. Pauline Smyth suggested not trying to have people at very variable levels of cognitive impairment (consistent with pitching tasks that are doable for the people who are taking part).
It was certainly an interesting masterclass. I did wonder whether there are a lot of services doing things like cognitive stimulation therapy without necessarily labelling it as such. There are a lot of people with intellectual disability out there (along with families and services) doing their best to keep active during the pandemic, though as one of the panellists noted, a lot of people in general are languishing.