A literature review of five studies on the use of therapeutic touch (TT) in the management of responsive behavior among people with dementia showed several beneficial trends

A literature review of five studies on the use of therapeutic touch (TT) in the management of responsive behavior among people with dementia showed several beneficial trends but also revealed research flaws that can undermine the ability to draw solid conclusions from the results.

The review, “Therapeutic Touch in the Management of Responsive Behavior in Patients with Dementia,” focused on five studies published between 2005 and 2010 on the topic of therapeutic touch (TT) for people with dementia.

The 2006 study featured in this review found that TT enhanced sleep habits and reduced agitation among people with dementia—but the study had only four subjects. According to the authors of the literature review, such a small sample size makes it “difficult to draw conclusions.”

One of two 2005 studies included in the review found that TT resulted in positive physical and behavioral changes among people with dementia. The most common of these changes were decreased vocalizations, reduced restlessness and improved demeanor.

However, the authors of the review state that this study provided no methodological details. They report that the tools used to assess behavioral and physical changes were not specified, and the outcome measures themselves—physiological changes, changes in pain levels, and behavioral changes—were broad, which could lead a “loss of information.”

In the other 2005 study featured in this review, the agitated behavioral response scale was used to measure six specific categories of behavior associated with dementia and found that TT decreased vocalization, restlessness and manual manipulation among people with dementia.

As for the 2008 and 2009 studies included in this review, both focused on the effects of TT across specific periods of time, such as immediately after each TT session and again one day, one week and two weeks after the intervention period had ended.

Results of these studies showed a decrease in nonaggressive behaviors and restlessness during the intervention period but not after it had ended, pointing toward the possible need for daily TT sessions to maintain such improvements.

The authors of the review note that it may be important to hone in on the effects of TT on subjects with specific types of dementia and at various stages and severity levels of dementia.

“The results of the current review suggest that TT may be beneficial for common behaviors of agitation such as wandering, restlessness and vocalizations,” conclude the study’s authors. “The results of the review also indicate a need to categorize individuals by dementia subtype and severity, use larger sample sizes, and decrease methodological inconsistency in recording behavioral symptoms in future studies.”

Authors: Ananthavalli Kumarappah and Helen Senderovich.

Sources: Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada; and Department of Family and Community Medicine, Division of Palliative Care, University of Toronto, Baycrest Health Sciences, Toronto, Canada. Originally published in the fall 2016 issue of Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, 30(4), 8-13.

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