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Treating people with massage or music therapy can help reduce agitation and aggression in people with dementia. Getty Images
- Medications are available to treat the psychiatric symptoms of dementia, but some non-drug therapies are effective and offer fewer side effects.
- Music therapy and massage therapy may help lessen agitation or aggression in some people with dementia.
- Looking at the underlying reasons that people with dementia may exhibit these behaviors can also help treat patients without medications.
For years, many physicians and caregivers have treated side effects of dementia, such as agitation or aggression, with medications. But these drugs have a number of side effects, such as increasing a person’s risk of falls and fracturesTrusted Source.
Now, this study provides people with dementia and their caregivers other options before turning to pills to treat these psychiatric symptoms.
While non-drug interventions for agitation and aggression offer fewer side effects, there’s a lack of research that directly compares them to medication treatments.
In the new paper, researchers tried to fill in this gap by combining results from 163 previous studies that looked at non-drug treatments for aggression and agitation in people with dementia.
Non-drug treatments effective for agitation and aggression
While dementia is probably best known for affecting memory and other thinking skills, research shows that three-quarters of peopleTrusted Source with dementia also have psychiatric symptoms.
These symptoms have been linked to poorer quality of lifeTrusted Source for the person with dementia, as well as faster mental decline and earlier deathTrusted Source.
Their meta-analysis included information on over 23,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.
Over half of the studies had interventions that ran for less than 11 weeks, while some ran for more than 30 weeks.
Researchers found that three types of non-drug interventions, including massage therapy, music therapy, and multidisciplinary care, were clinically effective for treating aggression or agitation in people with dementia, compared to the usual care for these symptoms.
The first was multidisciplinary care, which involved a care plan developed by more than one healthcare provider, such as by both a nurse and a physician.
Massage and touch therapy were also effective. These included interventions such as massage, acupressure, and therapeutic touch.
Music therapy was only effective when combined with massage and touch therapy. Music therapy involved listening to music, playing musical instruments, dancing, or moving to music.
The researchers also found that certain drug-based therapies, including cannabinoids, were more effective than usual care. However, given the potential side effects of these medications, people with dementia and their caregivers may want to consider non-drug treatments for aggression and agitation first, write the authors.