Intended for healthcare professionals


Sensory stimulation in dementia

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 07 December 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1312

An effective option for managing behavioural problems

  1. Alistair Burns, professor of old age psychiatry,
  2. Jane Byrne, senior lecturer in old age psychiatry,
  3. Clive Ballard, professor of old age psychiatry (,
  4. Clive Holmes, senior lecturer in old age psychiatry
  1. University of Manchester Department of Psychiatry, Education and Research Centre, Wythenshawe Hospital, Wythenshawe, Manchester M23 9LT
  2. Wolfson Research Centre, Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle General Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 6BE
  3. Thornhill Research Unit, Moorgreen Hospital, West End, Southampton SO30 3JB

    Most older people with dementia at some point in their illness develop psychiatric symptoms or behavioural disturbances such as agitation, aggression, depression, delusions, wandering, sleep disturbance, and hallucinations. Collectively, these are termed behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.1 They are frightening for patients and their carers; constitute a major management problem for psychiatrists, general practitioners, and geriatricians; and act as a trigger for admission to institutional care. After excluding treatable causes such as concurrent infections, non-pharmacological approaches such as behavioural management are the recommended first line intervention.2

    In practice, however, drugs such as neuroleptics and other sedatives are often prescribed in an attempt to control what can be an alarming situation. Although neuroleptics have modest term efficacy in the short term,3 they are associated with side effects such as sedation, extrapyramidal signs, falls, a …

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