By  | October 17th, 2019

Looking Beyond Drugs to Treat Aggression in Dementia Patients

While forgetfulness and cognitive decline are the main defining symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s, the conditions are also often riddled with behavioral issues and aggression, which can be burdensome for both patients and caregivers.

Certain drugs, like antipsychotics, can be used to treat these behavioral issues, or at least ease them a bit. But a new meta-analysis examining 163 studies and over 23,000 people with dementia finds that drugs may not be the most effective treatment path.

Instead, the authors pinpoint more holistic activities—like spending time outdoors, or getting messages—as being better at alleviating aggression and agitation among patients.

Drug Vs. Non-Drug Approaches

The researchers reviewed past studies that analyzed the efficacy of non-drug treatments for aggression in dementia. They found that being outside, getting massages and even music all showed positive benefits for reducing agitation and aggression in people with dementia—more so than antipsychotics.

Antipsychotics, like quetiapine and risperidone, are commonly prescribed to patients to help calm their aggressive behavior. But antipsychotics come with their own side effects, like an increased risk of stroke and falls. One recent study also found that antipsychotics were linked to a rise in hospitalizations among dementia patients.

The conclusion of the latest study was straightforward: “Nonpharmacologic interventions seemed to be more efficacious than pharmacologic interventions for reducing aggression and agitation in adults with dementia,” the authors wrote.

Outdoor activities in particular, like gardening, showed more efficacy in reducing physical aggression in dementia patients than antipsychotic medication. Physical touch, like massage and touch therapy, also showed to be a better alternative to drugs for treating verbal aggression.

Addressing the Root Cause of Aggression

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Submitted by Pat France, MSRN Member