The effect of massage on agitated behaviours in older people with dementia: a literature review

J Clin Nurs. 2013 Mar;22(5-6):601-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2012.04234.x. Epub 2012 Nov 20.


Aims and objectives: To review the literature on massage used to manage agitated behaviours in older people with dementia, assess its efficacy as a non-pharmacological approach and provide recommendations for future research.

Background: Agitation has traditionally been managed with chemical or physical restraint. There has been a growing interest in complementary therapies such as massage.

Design: A literature review.

Methods: Cooper's five-stage model of synthesising research guided the review process. The search terms 'massage', 'agitation' and 'dementia' were defined, and 10 databases were searched in October 2011. No date limitations were applied, although searches were limited to articles written in English. For relevant records, full-text copies were obtained and assessed in terms of inclusion criteria and methodological quality using the Validity Rating Tool (VRT). Data were extracted using a form constructed with reference to the checklist of items to consider in data extraction, produced by the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions.

Results: Thirteen studies met the inclusion criteria and were assessed on the VRT. One study was considered of adequate methodological quality to be included in the review. This prospective study found that massage significantly reduced levels of agitation in 52 cognitively impaired residents in two long-term care facilities.

Conclusions: There is a severe paucity of research that considers the effects of massage on managing agitated behaviours in older people with dementia. Whilst conclusions cannot be drawn from the one study included in this review, it did provide evidence to support the use of massage as a non-pharmacological approach to managing agitation in older people with dementia. More research, of better methodological quality, is needed.

Relevance to clinical practice: There is a need for health practitioners to be aware of the limited evidence for massage as an intervention for agitation and to provide opportunities to validate massage practice.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Dementia / psychology*
  • Dementia / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Agitation*