A new technique can help nurses take better care of those with dementia by significantly reducing the perceived threat of dental care, according to an article by Science Daily.
Sense of Danger
Oral care is difficult for dementia patients, who typically are unable to do it themselves but resist assistance from caretakers because they feel threatened. The Science Daily article describes the issue this way:
People with dementia are often no longer able to distinguish low or non-threatening situations from highly threatening situations. This happens when the parts of the brain that control threat perception — particularly the fight, flight or freeze responses — begin to deteriorate.
PubMed Health defines the symptoms of dementia:
Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. It affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior… Most types of dementia are nonreversible (degenerative). Nonreversible means the changes in the brain that are causing the dementia cannot be stopped or turned back. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.
A team of nurses and caretakers is developing a system for helping dementia patients become more comfortable with people cleaning their mouths. Managing Oral Hygiene Using Threat Reduction (“MOUTh”) uses 15 techniques for helping people under their care to feel more comfortable when caretakers approach their mouth to clean it. Some of these strategies include guiding the patient’s hand to perform care themselves, pantomiming, smiling and remaining eye-level to patients even when they are seated.
When team tested this new system of strategies, their subjects showed considerable improvement in oral hygiene at the end of the 2-week study. Considering that a much higher percentage of nursing home residents still have their own teeth compared to residents of 30 years ago, according to the article, additional oral care is required as a result.
Poor oral health can actually lead to more severe health problems like cardiovascular disease, pneumonia and diabetes, often because decay and bacteria can escape into the bloodstream. Adequate oral hygiene can help prevent these diseases as well as avoid the pain and discomfort that can come from decaying teeth and gum inflammation.