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University of Oklahoma researchers develop technique to help Alzheimer's patients regain independence

Through frequent repetition, patients have been able to retain some aspects of their procedural memory.
by Silas Allen Modified: July 2, 2013 at 11:46 pm •  Published: July 3, 2013

Every day, Ron Grant loses a small part of who he once was — and what he was able to do — to Alzheimer's disease.

Now, University of Oklahoma researchers say they've found a way to give patients like Grant a chance to regain a part of what they've lost.

Grant, 60, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about five years ago. A retired prison chaplain, he said the diagnosis was more devastating because it came at such a young age.

Although he's still able to speak eloquently about the disease and how he copes with it, Grant said he's lost a certain amount of independence since his diagnosis. That's what life is like for most Alzheimer's patients, he said.

“Every day ... we're losing more and more of who we were and what we could do,” he said. “Some days are a lot worse than others. Some days, we don't notice any change.”

Researchers from the OU Health Sciences Center are developing a new type of therapy to help patients regain some of that independence. OU researchers developed a technique designed to preserve cognitive function in dementia patients. Now, they plan to take that technique into patients' homes.

It involves walking the patient through a task over and over for hours at a time, strengthening the patient's memory for that particular skill, said Carrie Ciro, the project's principal investigator.

During the first study, researchers brought participants into a lab that had been set up like a home. Researchers walked the participants through certain tasks, in some cases guiding their hands, again and again for three hours a day, five days a week for five weeks.

After the five-week period, participants showed improvement in their ability to perform those tasks, Ciro said. When researchers checked in with the participants after 90 days, that improvement remained, she said.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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