After receiving a 10-minute foot massage each day for two weeks, people with dementia and a history of agitation immediately showed a significant decrease in agitated behavior, according to recent research. In addition, the reduction in agitated behavior remained significant two weeks after the massage intervention had ended. The study, “Exploring the effect of foot massage on agitated behaviors in older people with dementia: A pilot study,” involved 22 people with a diagnosis of dementia and a history of clinically significant agitation. The mean age of the subjects in this study was about 85 years, and all of them were permanent residents of a care facility.

Eligibility criteria included recent history of exhibiting clinically significant agitated behaviors, according to nursing records, as well as not receiving other forms complementary therapy and no contraindications for foot massage.

For the intervention, trained massage therapists provided the subjects with a standardized five-minute massage on each foot once a day for 14 days, always between the hours of 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. The massage consisted of light pressure, with long, gliding, rhythmical strokes of the entire foot and ankle.

Agitation and related behavioral problems were assessed at baseline, immediately after the end of the two-week intervention period and again two weeks after the massage therapy had ended. These outcomes were measured using the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory and the Revised Memory and Behavior Problems Checklist.

According to caregiver reports, the most common agitated behaviors observed in the study’s subjects were verbal aggression, wandering and repetitive movements.

Results of the research revealed significant improvements, compared to baseline, on both the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory and the Revised Memory and Behavior Problems Checklist. The improvements were significant immediately after the two-week massage intervention and also two weeks after the intervention had ended.

“The results suggest that regular short foot massages can reduce agitation and related behavioral problems in people with dementia in just two weeks, irrespective of gender,” state the study’s authors. “Furthermore, these changes appear to be maintained for at least two weeks without massage.

“The results also indicate that foot massage is well tolerated by people with dementia,” they added, “with only two participants refusing ongoing treatment.”

The researchers propose a randomized, controlled trial to confirm the findings from this pilot study.

Authors: Wendy Moyle, Amy Nicole Burne Johnston and Siobhan Therese O’Dwyer.

Sources: Griffith Health Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Originally published in September 2011 in the Australian Journal on Aging, 30(3), 159-161.