In her latest blog, our Learning Disabilities Admiral Nurse Jane Nickels explores the links between autism and dementia.
This month I’m exploring the links between autism and dementia.
This area has very little research yet we know that over 10% of the autistic adult population will go on to develop dementia. There is also growing thought on Frontal Temple Lobe dementia (FTLD) symptoms and how an autistic person may present; research has highlighted that many autistic characteristics are expressed in FTLD, especially in communication as opposed to the behavioural type. So what do we look for and how can we support the person?
Over the last 11 months, I’ve come into contact with autistic adults who appear to be displaying signs of dementia. Changes in their routines (reverting to old routines), reduced levels of engagement, loss of interest in hobbies and/or increased agitation whilst doing tasks they would normally enjoy intently, their usual self-regulating stimming techniques are no longer having the desired effect or are changing, are just a few of the signs feedback from team members supporting autistic people.
There is no magic wand or one size fits all, we do need to be flexible in our approach, as the person changes so does the way we need to support them. Of course, this is true of anyone with dementia and not exclusive to an autistic person.
Think about old routines, particular interests, their responses to different aspects of their daily life, how the person responds to a loved one (ask yourself, is this a typical response?). Small changes need to be documented and followed up. Always consider any health concerns that could be changing the way a person presents or consider their environment and how this could be impacting on them.
Discuss any concerns with the GP, documenting these changes on the NHS’s Anticipatory Care Calendar who then use this evidence to explore potential health concerns and may refer on to a specialist in dementia.
Further research is needed so services can provide good quality support which will enhance the lives of autistic adults living with dementia.
MacIntyre has expertise in autism and dementia, so we hope in the future we can support this research.
Here are a few links to our resources:
- Executive Functions in Older Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder: Objective Performance and Subjective Complaints. Davids, R. C. D., Groen, Y., Berg, I. J., Tucha, O. M., & van Balkom, I. D. C. (2016). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46, 2859-2873.
- Elderly with autism: executive functions and memory. Geurts, H. M. & Vissers, M. E. (2012).Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders., 42, 665-675.
- Age-related differences in cognition across the adult lifespan in autism spectrum disorder. Lever, A. G. & Geurts, H. M. (2015). Autism Research 9, 666-676.