A randomized controlled trial of the effects of multi-sensory stimulation (MSS) for people with dementia

Br J Clin Psychol. 2001 Mar;40(1):81-96. doi: 10.1348/014466501163508.


Objectives: To investigate short-term effects of Multi-Sensory Stimulation (MSS) on behaviour, mood and cognition of older adults with dementia, the generalization of effects to day hospital and home environments and the endurance of any effects over time.

Design: A randomized controlled trial comparing MSS with a credible control of one-to-one activities.

Methods: Fifty patients with diagnoses of moderate to severe dementia were randomized to either MSS or Activity groups. Patients participated in eight 30-minute sessions over a 4-week period. Ratings of behaviour and mood were taken before, during and after sessions to investigate immediate effects. Pre, mid, post-trial, and follow-up assessments were taken to investigate any generalization of effects on cognition, behaviour at the day hospital and behaviour and mood at home and endurance of effects once sessions had ceased.

Results: Immediately after MSS and Activity sessions patients talked more spontaneously, related better to others, did more from their own initiative, were less bored/inactive, and were more happy, active or alert. Both groups were more attentive to their environment than before, with a significantly greater improvement from the MSS group. At the day hospital, patients in the Activity group improved on their 'speech skills' (amount of speech; initiation of speech), whereas the MSS group remained unchanged during the trial. The MSS group showed a significant improvement in mood and behaviour at home compared to the Activity group whose behaviour deteriorated. No longer-term benefits were shown; indeed, behaviour declined sharply during the month follow-up period.

Conclusions: Both MSS and Activity sessions appear to be effective and appropriate therapies for people with dementia.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods*
  • Affect
  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Communication
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Generalization, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Relaxation Therapy