How ABA can help people living with dementia
Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) focuses on the application of principles of numerous behaviours in order to improve quality of peoples’ lives. This clinical practice is mainly associated with autism, however through its growing interest; it has been noted to be beneficial towards individuals living with dementia.
Dr Rebecca Sharp, who is the Course Director for the MSc Applied Behaviour Analysis degree at Bangor University as well as Board Certified Behaviour Analyst-Doctoral level with an expertise in working with people living with dementia, focuses on several areas of the practice.
Dr Sharp is researching the effectiveness of utilising ABA techniques to help to teach skills that people with dementia have lost them due to the illness, for example speech. Some of the effective strategies are based around learning simplified sign language and Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). It also involves dealing with challenging behaviours including verbal aggression or food refusal. Secondly, looking at numerous strategies to support and teach alternative behaviours as well as understand the function of these behaviours (i.e., what the purpose of the behaviour is, what it helps the person achieve). She is also looking at effective ABA based methods to help those living with dementia to maintain independence, which focuses on helping with daily life tasks in order to prevent those skills being lost. In addition, Dr Sharp works on staff training programmes that focus on providing strategies so that staff are more able to develop a deeper understanding of the challenging behaviours they encounter.
ABA practice is tailored to an individual and it does not only involve pre- and post-behaviour change observation, but also tracking particular behaviours over a certain period of time, which gives an ability to adapt any changes of the practice if needed. The focus is being put on observable behaviours, which is useful for people who may no longer be able to self-report. Dr Sharp and her PhD student, Zoe Lucock, are using this type of measurement and approach to develop a way for people with dementia to communicate how they like their care to be delivered that does not rely on speech. Furthermore, they are looking at how they can extend the research by working with people who have both an intellectual disability and dementia (e.g., people with Down Syndrome who may develop dementia at a younger age); which is a population underrepresented in the behavioural literature.
The person-centred nature of ABA is summed up by Dr Sharp: “The main implication of the method is making sure that the practice not only benefits the person with dementia but also people in the environment surrounding the person; the ultimate aim is to improve quality of life.”
Written by: Aleksandra Kozlowska Journalism Student
Publication date: 18 May 2017