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Holistic Approaches More Effective Than Drugs for Some Dementia Behaviors

Holistic Approaches More Effective Than Drugs for Some Dementia Behaviors

Recent research indicates that holistic non-drug interventions are more clinically effective than medication in treating physical aggression and physical agitation in individuals with dementia. Published October 14 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study was led by researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto and the University of Calgary, both in Canada.

Dementia, one of the leading causes of disability, is a syndrome involving the typically progressive deterioration of memory, reasoning, communication, and other cognitive functions. The condition affects 50 million people worldwide and nearly 10 million individuals are newly diagnosed each year. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, representing 60-70 percent of cases, but dementia can be caused by a number of other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Lewy Body disease, and stroke.

For this study, researchers conducted what’s known as a “meta-analysis,” basically a systematic quantitative review, of 163 randomized control studies representing 23,143 individuals with dementia. They found that outdoor activities were more effective in reducing physical aggression in dementia patients than anti-psychotic medication. In terms of physical agitation in dementia patients, researchers found that massage and touch therapy, with or without music, was more successful than standard dementia care approaches or dementia caregiver support.

The authors stressed that neuropsychiatric interventions for dementia behaviors do not lend themselves to one-size-fits-all approaches and should be individually tailored to each individual’s unique situation and experience. At the same time, their research opens the door for healthcare providers to consider a wider range of multidisciplinary approaches when considering interventions and treatments for challenging dementia behaviors.

Further investigation is needed to shed light on the ways that individual dementia patient’s personal characteristics influence their particular responses to various treatment modalities. Another useful area of exploration, certainly from a healthcare policy perspective, would be a comparison of the costs of medication versus non-medication approaches.

The study was intended to address a gap in the dementia care knowledge base due to the lack of head-to-head randomized control studies comparing medication and non-medication treatments for aggression and agitation in dementia patients.