Talking therapies could improve anxiety and depression in people with dementia, new study finds

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People with dementia who suffer from anxiety or depression may benefit from talking therapies available on the NHS, new research has suggested.

Previous studies have estimated that 38% of people with mild dementia are affected by the mental health conditions.

Researchers looked at data from 2,515,402 people, who had clinically significant anxiety or depression and completed a course of treatment via the national Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service in England between 2012 and 2019.

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IAPT is a free NHS service and offers therapies for treating anxiety and depression – including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), counselling and guided self-help. Sessions are delivered either face to face individually, in groups, or online.

The study - led by UCL researchers and funded by the Alzheimer’s Society and Wellcome - is published in eClinicalMedicine.

It found that treatment was clinically beneficial among people with dementia, and 63% of them saw a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety, following IAPT. According to the paper, some 40% recovered completely.

People with dementia who suffer from anxiety or depression may benefit from talking therapies available on the NHSPeople with dementia who suffer from anxiety or depression may benefit from talking therapies available on the NHS
People with dementia who suffer from anxiety or depression may benefit from talking therapies available on the NHS | Adobe

In a group of people who did not have dementia, 70% of them saw an improvement in symptoms and 47% recovered.

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To examine outcomes for people living with dementia, researchers looked at all those who had a dementia diagnosis before starting IAPT treatment – 1,549 people.

They also looked at 1,329 people who did not have dementia, but similar to the people with dementia in terms of age, gender, depression and anxiety severity when starting treatment.

A review of evidence led by UCL researchers confirmed the effectiveness of talking therapies for people with dementia.

Scientists said their findings support the use of treatments like counselling to treat anxiety and depression in people with the condition.

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‘Our findings support the use of IAPT to treat anxiety and depression in people with dementia’

Lead author, PhD candidate Georgia Bell, UCL Psychology & Language Sciences, said: “Anxiety and depression are very common in people with dementia. They are extremely debilitating and associated with worse outcomes for both the person with dementia and their carers.

“This is the largest ever study to investigate outcomes of psychological therapies in people living with dementia.

“Our findings suggest that while people with dementia are less likely to improve or recover than those without dementia, psychological therapies offered in primary care mental health services can be beneficial for them.

“Consequently, our findings support the use of IAPT to treat anxiety and depression in people with dementia.

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“We hope this study will have implications for encouraging referrals and adaptations to increase access and enhance outcomes for people living with dementia.”

Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Many people living with dementia also have depression and anxiety, making it even harder for them and their carers to cope with symptoms and for some people even leading to a faster decline in memory and thinking problems.

“Consistent and accessible mental health support after a diagnosis is vital.”

He added: “Though this study didn’t compare the types of therapy, types of dementia, or if there were adaptations made for people living with the disease, it still highlights the urgent need to improve real-world therapy for those living with dementia – with adaptations to improve its effectiveness and accessibility.”

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