February 23, 2024

A psychological intervention for those living with mild to moderate dementia has been welcomed by patients and staff in Wester Ross, with the majority of those who have taken part showing an improvement by the end of the programme.

Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) is about mental stimulation. It encourages those taking part to have an active mind and be engaged, exercising skills that they haven’t used in a while and slows down the progression of living with dementia.

CST involves 14 sessions over seven weeks. In Wester Ross, due to its remote and rural nature, they run two sessions on the same day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. They’ve already held a group in Gairloch, currently have a group running in Lochcarron and then will move on to Ullapool before starting the run again.

Run by Morag Redshaw, Community Psychiatric Nurse, and Christine McCallum, Post Diagnostic Support Link Worker, the group has shown improvement in those who have attended with family members really pleased with the difference shown in their loved ones.

Christine said: “Each of the 14 sessions has a specific task, these can include physical games which really brought out their competitive side or we can have them listening to different recordings and have them associate that with a picture. We have used childhood toys and that brings about the sharing of childhood memories and we also speak about current affairs every week and have them engage with what is happening now.

“It gets them to stimulate different parts of their brain and, because memory is personal to the individual, it’s their opinions that are shared. We don’t score or judge as what is important is what they think.”

CST has a uniform approach but, depending on the area where it is run, each group could have its own unique way of engaging with those in attendance.

With the two sessions held on the same day those in the group continue to connect over their lunch break in what has been described as ‘a family lunch’ highlighting that as well as improving cognition the social aspect of these groups is just as important.

Morag said: “We can see that we are making a difference. Each participant completes the Addenbrooke assessment tool for memory at the beginning and at the end of the 14 sessions and the majority had all improved. The feedback we get from families is also very positive as they are seeing the improvement in their loved ones too.

“We have heard from families that their family member had never been a groups person but now, even if they have visitors, they wouldn’t dream of missing any of the sessions. They are seeing much more engagement at home, not as withdrawn and are more active in family conversation.”

She added: “We also know that those who have completed the sessions in Gairloch are attending community groups in their local area. Their confidence has improved to the point that they can manage on their own, keep those social interactions going and they don’t need the group in order to do that.

“We are intending to pilot a maintenance session for those who have completed the sessions to ensure the good work continues.

“It’s been a fantastic success. We’ve really enjoyed running the group and in 40 years of nursing it’s probably the most rewarding thing I have ever done.”

CST groups are available across all of the Highland Council area of NHS Highland. Participants need to have that diagnosis of mild to moderate dementia and, if their mental health team think CST would be of benefit, they will be referred to the teams running them.

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