Behavioral Therapy May be Best in Fight Against Dementia


Dementia can be a devastating diagnosis for both the patient and their family, as Alzheimer’s and other dementia related diseases leads to gradual loss of memory, recognition, insomnia, and anxiety. There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s and most patients rely on medication to manage symptoms. However, for many of the behaviors related to this disease, such as the anxiety or others like wandering and aggression, typical dementia drugs may not work. This is frustrating for families and caregivers trying to help a patient who may be inconsolable. But new research suggests that behavioral therapy may be the answer for treating many of these symptoms.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal analyzed data from more than two decades of scientific research on Alzheimer’s treatment. The findings of the analysis showed that patients receiving anti-psychotic drugs to help their symptoms were less effective than non-drug treatments. The team found that the treatments with the most success focused on caregivers’ communication skills and offering interesting hobbies to patients. Dr. Helen Kales, one of the lead authors of the study, believes that caregiver interventions like this work because the caregiver is trained to seek out trigger or early symptoms and therefore intercede before things get out of control.

The FDA has warned against anti-psychotic drugs for dementia patients because of increased risk of death. Despite this, one in three memory care patients in nursing homes across the country receive these medications. According to Dr. Kales and her team, these drugs may be effective in an emergency but are only about half as effective as caregiver interventions in general symptom management. It is hoped that this study will encourage doctors and other health care providers to learn more about non-drug approaches to treating dementia patients. When care is focused on patient interventions as opposed to medication, there could be greater success and less risk of negative side effects.


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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Steve Baker