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Gentle massage therapy shows promising effects in easing the agitation and anxiety in dementia patients.

In general, there is reason to believe that massage and other forms of touch could prove helpful for dementia patients. On the physiological level, touch could affect the release of hormones that regulate anxiety and agitation. Then there's the commonsense psychological level. Physical contact is a basic form of human communication that often gets lost once people are mature enough to use words instead. But for people with dementia, human touch may again become the easiest way, or even the only way, to communicate.

Researchers from the Knowledge and Research Centre for Alternative Medicine found that hand massage helps in calming dementia patients' agitation levels, while gentle touch and verbal encouragement at mealtime improved their food intake.

The behavioural and emotional effects of dementia - including wandering, difficulty with eating and bathing, anxiety, confusion and agitation are challenging for caregivers, and there is growing interest in whether therapeutic touch can bring some short-term relief from these problems. The researchers reviewed a total of 110 nursing home residents with dementia. In one study, researchers used gentle touch and verbal encouragement to help residents stay calm at mealtime.

They found that those who received actual contact ate more than residents who received verbal encouragement alone. In the second study, researchers found that hand massage, with or without calming music, helped soothe dementia patients' agitation levels for a short period.

The findings suggest that human touch could help allay the agitation, anxiety and other behavioural and emotional problems that come with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. The limited evidence currently available is too limited in scope to allow for general conclusions, so further high quality randomised controlled trials are required.