Using Complementary and Alternative Medicine to Treat Pain and Agitation in Dementia: A Review of Randomized Controlled Trials from Long-Term Care with Potential Use in Critical Care

Crit Care Nurs Clin North Am. 2017 Dec;29(4):519-537. doi: 10.1016/j.cnc.2017.08.010. Epub 2017 Sep 27.


The risk of pain in adults with dementia worsens with advancing age. Painful comorbidities may be underassessed and inadequately treated. Receiving treatment in critical care settings may indicate greater occurrences of pain and complications. Pain may exacerbate behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), such as agitation. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies may alleviate pain and BPSD, and continuity of therapy may bolster these therapeutic effects. This review did not reveal an apparent benefit of aromatherapy; however, improvements in BPSD have been shown previously. Massage and human interaction did demonstrate efficacy in reducing BPSD and pain.

Keywords: Agitation; Aromatherapy; CAM; Dementia; Essential oil; Massage; Pain; Touch.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aromatherapy
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Care / methods*
  • Pain
  • Psychomotor Agitation
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*