The use and utility of specific nonpharmacological interventions for behavioral symptoms in dementia: an exploratory study

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2015 Feb;23(2):160-70. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2014.06.006. Epub 2014 Jun 26.


Objective: This study compares different nonpharmacological interventions for persons with behavioral symptoms and dementia on frequency of use and perceived efficacy in terms of change in behavior and interest.

Methods: Participants were 89 nursing home residents from six Maryland nursing homes with a mean age of 85.9 years (SD: 8.6 years). Research assistants presented interventions tailored to the participants' needs and preferences in a pre-intervention trial phase and in an intervention phase. The impact of each intervention on behavioral symptoms and on the person's interest was rated immediately after the intervention by a research assistant.

Results: The most utilized interventions in both trial and treatment phases were the social intervention of one-on-one interaction, simulated social interventions such as a lifelike doll and respite video, the theme intervention of magazine, and the sensory stimulation intervention of music. In contrast, the least utilized interventions in both phases were sewing, fabric book, and flower arrangement. Interventions with the highest impact on behavioral symptoms included one-on-one social interaction, hand massage, music, video, care, and folding towels. Other high impact interventions included walking, going outside, flower arranging, food or drink, sewing, group activity, book presentation, ball toss, coloring or painting, walking, and family video.

Conclusions: The results provide initial directions for choosing specific interventions for persons with dementia and also demonstrate a methodology for increasing knowledge through ongoing monitoring of practice.

Keywords: Dementia; behavioral symptoms; nonpharmacological interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Behavioral Symptoms / therapy*
  • Dementia / diagnosis
  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Sex Factors
  • Treatment Outcome