Behavioral and psychological symptoms are common in dementia, and they are especially stressful for family caregivers. Nonpharmacological (or psychosocial) interventions have been shown to be effective in managing behavioral and psychological symptoms, but mainly in institutional settings. The authors reviewed the effectiveness of community-based nonpharmacological interventions delivered through family caregivers.
Of 1,665 articles identified in a literature search, 23 included unique randomized or pseudorandomized nonpharmacological interventions with family caregivers and outcomes related to the frequency or severity of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, caregiver reactions to these symptoms, or caregiver distress attributed to these symptoms. Studies were rated according to an evidence hierarchy for intervention research.
Nonpharmacological interventions were effective in reducing behavioral and psychological symptoms, with an overall effect size of 0.34 (95% CI=0.20–0.48; z=4.87; p<0.01), as well as in ameliorating caregiver reactions to these behaviors, with an overall effect size of 0.15 (95% CI=0.04–0.26; z=2.76; p=0.006).
Nonpharmacological interventions delivered by family caregivers have the potential to reduce the frequency and severity of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, with effect sizes at least equaling those of pharmacotherapy, as well as to reduce caregivers’ adverse reactions. The successful interventions identified included approximately nine to 12 sessions tailored to the needs of the person with dementia and the caregiver and were delivered individually in the home using multiple components over 3–6 months with periodic follow-up.