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Psychogeriatrics. 2010 Dec;10(4):206-13. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-8301.2010.00323.x. Epub 2010 Aug 28.

Overview of non-pharmacological intervention for dementia and principles of brain-activating rehabilitation.

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Gunma University School of Health Sciences, Geriatrics Research Institute and Hospital, Maebashi, Japan.


Non-pharmacological interventions for dementia are likely to have an important role in delaying disease progression and functional decline. Research into non-pharmacological interventions has focused on the differentiation of each approach and a comparison of their effects. However, Cochrane Reviews on non-pharmacological interventions have noted the paucity of evidence regarding the effects of these interventions. The essence of non-pharmacological intervention is dependent of the patients, families, and therapists involved, with each situation inevitably being different. To obtain good results with non-pharmacological therapy, the core is not 'what' approach is taken but 'how' the therapists communicate with their patients. Here, we propose a new type of rehabilitation for dementia, namely brain-activating rehabilitation, that consists of five principles: (i) enjoyable and comfortable activities in an accepting atmosphere; (ii) activities associated with empathetic two-way communication between the therapist and patient, as well as between patients; (iii) therapists should praise patients to enhance motivation; (iv) therapists should try to offer each patient some social role that takes advantage of his/her remaining abilities; and (v) the activities should be based on errorless learning to ensure a pleasant atmosphere and to maintain a patient's dignity. The behavioral and cognitive status is not necessarily a reflection of pathological lesions in the brain; there is cognitive reserve for improvement. The aim of brain-activating rehabilitation is to enhance patients' motivation and maximize the use of their remaining function, recruiting a compensatory network, and preventing the disuse of brain function. The primary expected effect is that patients recover a desire for life, as well as their self-respect. Enhanced motivation can lead to improvements in cognitive function. Amelioration of the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia and improvements in activities of daily living can also be expected due to the renewed positive attitude towards life. In addition, improvements in the quality of life for both patients and caregivers is an expected outcome. To establish evidence for non-pharmacological interventions, research protocols and outcome measures should be standardized to facilitate comparison among studies, as well as meta-analysis.

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