Non-pharmacological therapies in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases

The progressive ageing of the population has led to an increase in age-related neurodegenerative diseases, among which dementia, characterised by a progressive deterioration of cognitive functions that significantly interferes with a person’s functional independence, stands out.

Two of the most prevalent pathologies today, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are due to the progressive loss and degeneration of nerve cells and occur most frequently in people over the age of 65, as they are associated with the ageing process.

According to the Alzheimer’s World Alzheimer Report 2020 by Alzheimer’s Association International (ADI), approximately 152 million people are predicted to be living with dementia by 2050, and it is already the fifth leading cause of death worldwide; however, most countries still have a long way to go in terms of making the built environment accessible to those living with the disease.

Pharmacological treatment of this type of dementia has shown positive results in its ability to improve cognition and functionality, although it has not succeeded in slowing down the progression of the disease.

In this scenario, there is a growing interest in the use of non-pharmacological therapies as a complementary treatment to preserve functional independence, improve cognition and quality of life for both people with dementia and their caregivers.

Non-pharmacological treatment in this type of disease refers to different types of interventions carried out by professionals (psychologists, neuropsychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists…) with very positive results. Research has shown that this type of therapy, combined with pharmacological treatment, can be as effective, or even more effective in some cases, than the use of drugs alone for the treatment of some of the main symptoms, improving the quality of life of people with dementia and their carers.

These techniques include psychostimulation, cognitive stimulation, reminiscence, music therapy and art therapy, reality orientation, sensory stimulation, animal therapy, physical exercise and psychomotor therapy, among others. With the advance of new technologies, and particularly in the use of MHealth systems, IoT, gamification or machine learning, new possibilities arise that will facilitate better care and monitoring for this type of user.

It is in this context that our AVECEN project focuses, offering a virtual assistant that facilitates the surveillance and self-management of patients’ state of health, designed as a system for constant monitoring and evaluation through the execution of clinical routines, which generate recommendations adapted to the patient’s condition, and in the evaluation of their frequent or habitual behaviour at all times, allowing us to understand their evolution over time and assess the extent to which a worsening of their state of health is taking place. Our aim is to improve patients’ adherence to clinical routines, to the prescribed treatment and, in general, to good management practices for neurodegenerative diseases, especially physical activities, healthy lifestyle habits, and psychological and cognitive assessments of their state of health.

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