Efficacy and feasibility of nonpharmacological interventions for neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia in long term care: a systematic review

J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2012 Jul;13(6):503-506.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.jamda.2011.12.059. Epub 2012 Feb 17.


Background: Nonpharmacological therapies are often recommended as a first-line treatment for neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPS) of dementia in long term care (LTC); however, little is known about which nonpharmacological interventions are most effective for NPS in LTC or the feasibility of interventions, given the availability of resources in typical LTC environments.

Methods: We searched the electronic databases MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsychINFO (1980-2010), the Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar using keywords and medical subject headings for randomized, controlled trials evaluating nonpharmacological interventions for NPS conducted in LTC settings. Change in severity of NPS symptoms was evaluated through the NPS outcomes measures reported in studies. We assessed study quality and described the feasibility of interventions based on various aspects of study design.

Results: A total of 40 studies met inclusion criteria. Sixteen (40%) of 40 included studies reported statistically significant results in favor of nonpharmacological interventions on at least one measure of NPS. These interventions included staff training in NPS management strategies, mental health consultation and treatment planning, exercise, recreational activities, and music therapy or other forms of sensory stimulation. Many of the studies had methodological limitations that placed them at potential risk of bias. Most interventions (n = 30, 75%) required significant resources from services outside of LTC or significant time commitments from LTC nursing staff for implementation.

Conclusions: There are several nonpharmacological interventions that may be effective for NPS in LTC, although there are a limited number of large-scale, high-quality studies in this area. The feasibility of some interventions will be limited in many LTC settings and further research into practical and sustainable interventions for NPS in LTC is required to improve usage of these important treatments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Behavior Therapy
  • Caregivers / education
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Music Therapy
  • Psychomotor Agitation / psychology
  • Psychomotor Agitation / therapy*