Sunrise Senior Living Experiments with ‘Video for the Brain’ Dementia Therapy in UK

Sunrise Senior Living is launching a 12-month trial in some of its U.K. communities, testing a type of dementia therapy that is gaining increasing recognition for effectiveness. The approach, if successful, could be integrated into the company’s memory care practices in the United States as well.

The trial is being conducted by the University of Exeter, which will train caregivers and clinicians in cognitive behavioral techniques. The caregivers will then work with Sunrise residents living with early stage dementia on goals the residents identify as most important to maintain their lifestyle. The UK Alzheimers Society is funding the trial. Sunrise is based in McLean, Virginia, and operates about 260 communities in the U.S. and about 60 across the U.K. and Canada.

As is the case in the United States and other countries worldwide, the U.K. is facing a stark challenge as its population ages. An estimated 850,000 people in the United Kingdom are believed to be living with a form of dementia. The risk of developing dementia in the UK increases from one in 14 over age 65, to one in six over age 80. Multiple studies have shown that cognitive rehabilitation therapy can help people suffering from dementia extend their quality of life and independence, and a growing number of senior living providers are participating in studies to determine how their residents can benefit from cognitive therapy.


“We’re looking into all sorts of clinical approaches to see if our residents can function longer,” Sunrise Senior Living UK Director of Memory Care Jackie Pool told Senior Housing News.

The program is an extension of a five-year trial the University of Exeter launched in 2012 to determine the effects of non-pharmacological techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy versus standard pharmacological practices which are aimed more toward preventing or curing dementia. That study involved 480 people across the United Kingdom. Therapists entered the homes of half the patients and applied what they learned, while the other half continued with their ongoing regimen.

Pool trained the therapists for the initial study.


“We found there was evidence the cognitive techniques were effective,” she said.

Video for the brain

Caregivers will undergo immersive two-day training in cognitive rehabilitation and cognitive stimulation therapy. Cognitive rehabilitation identifies goals a patient wishes to achieve but cannot because of an impairment, through rehearsal and stimuli.

An example: a patient wishes to remember the names of grandchildren. Once a patient identifies a meaningful goal, the caregiver breaks it down into tiny segments and builds up a patient’s ability to remember. As the patient progresses, the caregiver will bring in additional approaches like elaborating on names and using visual stimuli, so the patient will connect that to the name. Eventually, the patient will be able to remember the name without the need for visual stimuli.

Cognitive rehabilitation sessions will last one hour per week. Additionally, staff will be on call 24-7 to provide additional help.

Cognitive stimulation therapy is intended to energize and stimulate a patient’s brain to be as active as possible, in a group setting. These one-hour, twice-weekly sessions will use visual stimuli, like photos, to encourage patients to bring back memories and converse with each other. The sessions will be more energetic than individual sessions, with the theory being the more energized one gets, the higher one’s well being.

“One of the principles of cognitive therapy is building new pathways in the brain to replace the damaged neurons, using the way the brain works and how it categorizes information to link different areas of strength,” Pool said. “It’s ‘video for the brain.'”

Sunrise is one of 15 participants in the program, which also includes a mix of independent senior living groups and medical institutions. Pool is training practitioners in four groups and working with University of Exeter Professor Linda Clare, who will be in the unique position of serving as a conduit between groups on best practices, observations and sharing ideas for activities.

Four of Sunrise’s senior living facilities —  Sunrise of Tettenhall, Sunrise of Eastbourne, Sunrise of Chorleywood and Sunrise of Edgbaston — will participate in the trial. As with the original trial, a control group will be used to compare the program’s effectiveness.

“We’ve partnered each home with a similar home that is doing traditional treatment, to compare data,” Pool said. “These homes have been selected by size and similarity of client group.”

As the trial progresses, Sunrise’s leadership board and a steering group for the program will receive quarterly updates, keeping them abreast of findings. By the end of the trial, Sunrise’s goal is to have cognitive therapy standard in all of its homes in the U.K., Pool said. There is a reason: Nearly 75% of Sunrise residents in assisted living suffer from some form of dementia.

“By providing the therapy, we hope to get them to stay longer before moving to reminiscent neighborhoods,” Pool said.

The therapy would complement Sunrise’s current initiatives to treat residents living with dementia like activity programs and pet therapy.

The cognitive therapy may even make its way to Sunrise communities in the United States.

“The different regulatory environments would not make it harder to implement this in the U.S.,” Pool said.

Written by Chuck Sudo

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