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New Alzheimer's treatment studied (1/22/97)

"In Alzheimer's disease behavior regresses through normal stages of human development," stated Mary Ann Matteson, PhD, Thelma and Joe Crow Endowed Professor in the department of chronic nursing care at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Dr. Matteson recently received the prestigious Shannon Award, bestowed by the National Institutes of Health and given to a researcher based upon past achievement to strengthen a proposal that has merit but for some reason is not fundable as proposed. Dr. Matteson plans to use the funds from this award to extend previous research with nursing home patients using care plans modeled after the Piaget method.

Dr. Jean Piaget, Swiss philosopher and psychologist, provided understanding of how children's thinking differs from adults' and of how children learn. His research identified different stages of development during the growth of a child and his teaching strategies were based upon acquisition of skills at certain levels.

"From birth to two years of age an infant goes through the sensorimotor stage," Dr. Matteson explained. "Two to seven years are pre- operational, when the child learns to be continent, speaks, walks, and engages in play.

"The years from age seven to adolescence are used in learning concrete operations - at this stage children become very concrete in their thinking. Most kids are rule-oriented during these years and their reading and writing skills are developed. After 12 years of age, abstract thinking evolves," Dr. Matteson said.

Persons with behavior problems, such as Alzheimer's patients, are easily frustrated. There are ways to test for each level of development. Once the patient's cognitive developmental level has been established, nursing care interventions help.

"These interventions should be done at the level the patient is capable of understanding and performing," Dr. Matteson says. "For instance, if a patient can't use eating utensils but does fine with finger food, that patient should be given finger food, producing less anxiety and minimizing agitation."

Many nursing home patients wander away or spend their time in agitated pacing. Dr. Matteson has developed nursing interventions to reduce these problems. It was soon found that these interventions also reduced the use of psychotropic medications.

In the future, Dr. Matteson plans to study persons in day care centers and collect pilot data to determine the correlation among Piaget levels, behavioral symptoms, and functional abilities. Solving these relationships will allow patients to remain independent longer.

Contact: Jan Elkins (210) 567-2570