Dementia therapies may help relieve symptoms in people with dementia. There are many different therapies available, but researchers have found that some may be more effective than others.

Dementia is the general name for symptoms that affect a person’s memory, thinking, and decision-making. Several underlying brain conditions can cause dementia. Dementia is not a typical part of aging, although older adults are more likely to develop it.

People with dementia are also more likely to experience anxiety or depression. According to a 2017 study, up to 71% of people with dementia also have anxiety.

There is currently no cure for dementia, but treatment can help relieve symptoms. Dementia therapies can improve the quality of life, mood, and symptoms of people with dementia.

This article discusses different therapies for people with dementia and whether studies have found them effective.

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Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is a process where people talk through their experiences with a mental health professional. Talk therapy helps people with dementia identify and change:

  • troubling emotions
  • thoughts
  • behaviors

In this study from 2022, researchers investigated the effect of talk therapy on a group of people living with dementia. They found that talk therapy relieved symptoms of depression and anxiety in 63% of study participants. Further, the study found that 40% of participants recovered from depression and anxiety following talk therapy.

Read more about psychotherapy.

In reminiscence therapy (RT), people talk about things and events from their past, such as:

  • favorite possessions
  • music
  • photos

RT helps people focus on their skills and achievements instead of dementia.

Researchers assessed the benefits of RT on people with dementia in this 2018 review. They found that RT can lead to improvement in people’s:

  • quality of life
  • mental functions
  • communication abilities, especially in group or community settings
  • mood

They also found that the way therapists deliver RT can produce different results. They found that individual RT had more of an impact on cognition and mood, whereas group RT in a community setting was possibly associated with improvement in communication.

Therapists use cognitive stimulation therapy (CST) to improve certain aspects of dementia that people may experience, including:

  • memory
  • problem-solving skills
  • communication abilities
  • quality of life
  • anxiety and depression symptoms

CST consists of group exercises and activities, including:

  • physical games
  • word games
  • puzzles
  • practical activities, such as baking or gardening
  • discussing present or past events or other topics of interest
  • number games
  • team games

In this 2017 study, researchers found that CST helped people with dementia improve their mental functions and short-term memory. They found CST did not improve mood or anxiety and depression symptoms.

The researchers noted that their study had limitations, including a small number of participants. This could make it difficult to make general claims about the effect of CST on dementia.

Learn more about dementia.

In reality orientation training (ROT), therapists and people with dementia discuss:

  • the current time, date, and season
  • current events and surroundings
  • the person’s name, memories, daily routine, and personal items

Researchers in this study from 2015 investigated the effect of ROT on people with mild to moderate dementia. They found that 6 months of ROT sessions improved mental abilities.

Occupational therapists help people with dementia improve their ability to complete activities or tasks by:

  • identifying and simplifying meaningful activities, allowing people to engage with them more
  • removing distractions or stress from their environment
  • working with carers to adjust their environment, allowing more task participation and enjoyment

Researchers reviewed occupational therapy (OT) benefits in this 2019 study. They found that OT helped improve symptoms and quality of life for people with dementia.

Learn more about occupational therapy.

Hand massages may have benefits for people with dementia. In this 2018 study, researchers tested the effect of massages on people with dementia over 3 weeks.

They found that massages may reduce stress and agitation for people with dementia. However, they recommended further research to confirm their findings.

Read more about the benefits of massage.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machines use electricity to activate a person’s nerves. Some scientists believe TENS machines may help decrease pain, but others disagree.

Researchers investigated TENS machines for dementia treatment in this study from 2017. They found TENS machines helped older people with dementia improve their balance and walking skills. However, the researchers noted that they did not investigate whether these were long-term benefits.

There is no medication for the underlying brain condition that causes dementia. However, doctors can treat people’s dementia symptoms with some medications.

Doctors prescribe various medications for different types of dementia. The most common types of medication are cholinesterase inhibitors and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists.

Cholinesterase inhibitors

Cholinesterase inhibitors (CI) improve thinking skills and memory for people with dementia for a short time. For people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, doctors often prescribe CI medication, including:

  • donepezil
  • rivastigmine
  • galantamine

In this study from 2021, researchers concluded that cholinesterase inhibitors gave modest benefits that persisted over time. They also concluded that only galantamine significantly reduced a person’s risk of developing severe dementia.

NMDA receptor antagonists

N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists help stop the effects of dementia on learning and memory. One common type of this medication is memantine. Doctors often prescribe memantine if a person cannot take cholinesterase inhibitors, or they may prescribe it in combination with cholinesterase inhibitors if needed.

Lifestyle changes

People with dementia may also be able to optimize their cognitive functions with lifestyle methods, such as:

  • getting plenty of sleep
  • being physically active
  • treating any hearing or vision loss
  • reducing stress
  • eating a healthy and balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • reducing or avoiding eating processed foods or red meat
  • reducing or avoiding alcohol consumption
  • treating any underlying conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol

Underlying medical conditions and other factors can lower cognitive function. These tips may not work for everyone, and individuals can speak with a doctor for more information on lifestyle changes based on their circumstances.

Scientists have proven the benefit of many kinds of dementia therapies. Although doctors cannot cure or slow down dementia, some therapies can help improve symptoms for people with dementia.

People can discuss all treatment and therapy options with their doctor. A combination of therapies and medication may be the most effective way to manage the symptoms of dementia.