Non-drug options for older adults living with dementia

Aspects of dementia including aggression, agitations, anxiety, and psychosis can have a significant impact on the lives of dementia patients and their caregivers. Agitation, for example, affects 90% of dementia patients and can obstruct their ability to engage in essential or desired activities, affect their relationships, and decrease quality of life. It can also negatively impact caregivers, leading to feelings of helplessness and affecting their personal health. When it comes to treatment options, there are several non-drug related options that may be effective.

Music therapy can have positive effects for older adults and caregivers

Music creates emotions and causes physical effects in people: happy or quiet music lowers the heart rate and reduces stress, for example. Studies have shown that listening to music allows older adults with dementia to be calmer, which indirectly helps to reduce caregivers’ levels of stress. Also, group music therapy sessions led by a trained music therapist helped reduce caregivers’ anxiety by allowing them to express and share their feelings.

Cognitive training can reduce the severity of depression symptoms

If someone you care for has MCI or dementia, consider trying or suggesting they try cognitive training. This approach consists of computerized cognitive training; cognitive training and rehabilitation; and cognitive stimulation and can help lessen the severity of depression symptoms. It is best to consult with a health professional to better understand the strategy that will work best based on their specific circumstances.

Try a person-centred care approach

If your loved one is living in a care home and has paid caregivers, person-centred care can help reduce agitation. This individualized model of care involves considering likes/dislikes, values, culture, and abilities to develop a specific communication and care strategy.

When it comes to dementia care, there isn’t a one-size fits all approach but there are tools in your arsenal that can help you manage. Research suggests that adding a non-drug option to your management toolkit can help manage behaviours and reduce caregiver stress. To learn more, visit the links below.

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DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.