Psychotherapeutic interventions in individuals at risk for Alzheimer's dementia: a systematic review

Alzheimers Res Ther. 2022 Jan 31;14(1):18. doi: 10.1186/s13195-021-00956-8.


Background: Expanding technologies of early detection of Alzheimer's disease allow to identify individuals at risk of dementia in early and asymptomatic disease stages. Neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, are common in the course of AD and may be clinically observed many years before the onset of significant cognitive symptoms. To date, therapeutic interventions for AD focus on pharmacological and life style modification-based strategies. However, despite good evidence for psychotherapy in late-life depression, evidence for such therapeutic approaches to improve cognitive and emotional well-being and thereby reduce psychological risk factors in the course of AD are sparse.

Methods: A systematic review was conducted in PUBMED, PsycINFO, Web of Science, and Clinical Trials to summarize the state of evidence on psychotherapeutic and psychoeducational interventions for individuals at risk for Alzheimer's dementia. Eligible articles needed to apply a manualized and standardized psychotherapeutic or psychoeducational content administered by trained professionals for individuals with subjective cognitive decline or mild cognitive impairment and measure mental health, quality of life or well-being.

Results: The literature search yielded 32 studies that were included in this narrative summary. The data illustrates heterogeneous therapeutic approaches with mostly small sample sizes and short follow-up monitoring. Strength of evidence from randomized-controlled studies for interventions that may improve mood and well-being is scarce. Qualitative data suggests positive impact on cognitive restructuring, and disease acceptance, including positive effects on quality of life. Specific therapeutic determinants of efficacy have not been identified to date.

Conclusions: This review underlines the need of specific psychotherapeutic and psychoeducational approaches for individuals at risk of Alzheimer's dementia, particularly in terms of an early intervention aiming at improving mental health and well-being. One challenge is the modification of psychotherapeutic techniques according to the different stages of cognitive decline in the course of AD, which is needed to be sensitive to the individual needs.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s dementia; Alzheimer’s disease; Individuals at risk; Mild cognitive impairment; Prevention; Psychoeducation; Psychotherapy; Subjective cognitive decline.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / drug therapy
  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Quality of Life