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Aging Ment Health. 2013;17(6):655-66. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2013.781121. Epub 2013 Apr 23.

Systematic review of non-pharmacologic interventions to delay functional decline in community-dwelling patients with dementia.

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Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA.



Older adults with dementia experience progressive functional decline, which contributes to caregiver burden and nursing home placement. The goal of this systematic review was to determine if any non-pharmacologic interventions have delayed functional decline among community-dwelling dementia patients.


We completed a systematic literature review to identify controlled clinical trials reporting the impact of non-pharmacologic interventions on any measure of functional impairment or disability among community-dwelling dementia patients. We included studies that reported any proxy-respondent, self-reported, or performance-based standardized assessments.


We identified 18 published clinical trials that met inclusion criteria and found that study interventions fell into three different groups: occupational therapy, exercise, and multi-faceted ("other") interventions. The three groups of studies tended to vary systematically regarding the conceptual framework for the disabling process, target of intervention, and type of outcome measure. Approximately half the studies were conducted in the United States with mean sample size of 99 (from 27 to 1131) and follow-up periods between three months and two years. Instruments used to measure functional impairment or disability varied widely with 55 instruments across 18 studies. Nine studies reported a statistically significant improvement in functional decline in the intervention group.


The current literature provides clinical trial evidence that non-pharmacologic interventions can delay progression of functional impairment or disability among community-dwelling dementia patients. The clinical significance of this early evidence is uncertain. These early studies provide rationale for larger and longer-term studies to determine if these interventions are sufficiently potent to delay institutionalization.

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