People’s way of life, daily habits and gestures have been radically changed by the Covid-19 pandemic; in particular, the lives of elderly people and, more specifically, those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementias have become increasingly problematic. The need for partial confinement, imposed by the authorities to protect the most sensitive sections of the population, has in fact disrupted and to some extent compromised the lives of individuals suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.
One of the major difficulties that emerged during this period was the provision of more precise care linked to group or interaction activities. Decreased or total cessation of physical exercise and the interruption of regular social contacts deeply affected the most frail individuals, such as those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Among the issues that have had a significant impact on patients are the lack of stimuli from the outside world and increasing isolation, which have led in many cases to an acceleration of cognitive decline and dementia.
This admittedly difficult starting point prompted the development of strategies to prevent the complete discontinuation of meeting and help groups for dementia patients and encouraged the search for new ways to reach out to individuals and their caring family members and to provide support at a distance.
Therefore, a pilot group was set up – based on the experience of the TIncontro support group for early and early-medium stage Alzheimer’s patients – which developed TIncontro… via web, a project that provides moments of encounter with caregivers and online work, through the delivery of short videos based on emotional and bodily stimulation activities to be carried out remotely. The caregiver is invited to carry out at home with their relative the exercises of gentle movement and empathic communication described and shown during the video recordings, enriched by relaxing music and images. Each video accompanies caregiver and patient in the progressive discovery of movements and gestures that capture a glance from the theatre that explores people’s behaviour and emotionality.
This strategy of alternative communication with families thus enables the TIncontro group meetings to go ahead, in compliance with the protocols against coronavirus. One of the main objectives of the activities is to maintain a dialogue between the specialist, the patient, and the family, without interrupting its regularity, and to prevent the patient from regressing to more serious stages of the disease.
The project is based on the importance of non-pharmacological therapies which, in addition to the usual therapies, in this case utilise theatrical practices as a stimulus to keep the patient’s sensory experience and emotionality alive, albeit remotely, and help interaction with places, people and situations by promoting relaxing or resolving strategies to deal with the challenges of everyday life for patients with dementia and their caregivers. The project is useful and necessary in the pandemic phase but can also be a model for future support activities in addition to the regular face-to-face groups. In fact, the patient chooses with his or her caregiver the most appropriate time to prepare for the proposed exercises and can repeat them according to his or her own rhythm and needs, taking advantage of different aspects and stimuli each time, thus enriching the non-pharmacological therapy at home.
The project is led by Accademia Dimitri and the Centro Competenze Anziani, DEASS-SUPSI, in collaboration with Alzheimer Schweiz and various groups active in the area, such as the Associazione Alzheimer Ticino, promoter of the TIncontro group, and GINCO Gruppo Invecchiamento Consapevole, both led by Professor Rita Pezzati.
The project is realised with the support of the Alfred Loppacher and Helene Mettler Foundation.
Project management: Rita Pezzati, Centro Competenze Anziani, DEASS-SUPSI and Demis Quadri, Accademia Dimitri
Researcher: Krizia Bonaudo, Accademia Dimitri
Theatre instructor: Dante Carbini
In collaboration with
Dr. med. Brenno Galli
Katia Tunesi, TIncontro