International Psychogeriatrics

Review Article

Psychosocial treatments of psychological symptoms in dementia: a systematic review of reports meeting quality standards

Daniel W. O'Connora1 c1, David Amesa2, Betina Gardnera1 and Madeleine Kinga3

a1 Department of Psychological Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

a2 National Ageing Research Institute, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

a3 Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia


Background: This paper provides a systematic review of selected experimental studies of the effectiveness of psychosocial treatments in reducing psychological symptoms in dementia (e.g. anxiety, depression, irritability and social withdrawal).

Method: English language reports published or in press by February 2008 were identified by means of database searches and checks of previous reviews. Reports were appraised with respect to study design, participants' characteristics and reporting details. Because people with dementia often respond positively to personal contact, studies were included only if control conditions entailed similar levels of social attention or if one treatment was compared with another.

Results: Only 12 of 48 relevant papers met every specification. Treatments proved more effective in reducing psychological symptoms than an attention control condition or another treatment in only six of the 12 selected studies. Interventions with moderate effect sizes included music and recreation therapy.

Conclusions: Some psychosocial interventions appear to have specific therapeutic properties, over and above those due to the benefits of participating in a clinical trial. Their effects were generally modest with an unknown duration of action. This limited efficacy suggests that treatments will work best in specific, time-limited situations, tailored to individuals' requirements. There is no preferred method to rate psychological symptoms.

(Received June 12 2008)

(Revised September 10 2008)

(Revised September 18 2008)

(Accepted September 30 2008)

(Online publication January 13 2009)


c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: Professor Daniel O'Connor, Aged Mental Health Research Unit, Kingston Centre, Warrigal Road, Cheltenham, Victoria 3192, Australia. Phone: +61 (03) 9265 1700; Fax: +61 (03) 9265 1711. Email: