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Posted: November 21, 2006

Gentle Massage Intrigues Dementia Researchers; May Calm Anxieties

The agitation and anxiety often experienced by dementia and Alzheimer’s patients may be eased through gentle massage therapy, say researchers who add that more study is needed before massage could be recommended as a clinical treatment.
Massage therapy’s promise derived from results drawn from two clinical trials in which Danish researchers found that hand massage helped calm agitation levels in dementia patients. They also found that gentle touch therapy and "verbal encouragement" at mealtime improved the patients’ food intake.
The findings, published in the Cochrane Library which reports on work of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research, suggest that human touch could help soothe the agitation, anxiety and other behavioral and emotional problems associated with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
Dr. Niels Viggo Hansen, a researcher at the Knowledge and Research Center for Alternative Medicine, which is part of Denmark's Ministry of Health, said further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn about the apparent benefits. He told Reuters that researchers were surprised to find only the two high-quality clinical trials upon which they could develop their findings. Hansen and colleagues focused on massage therapy in their work because of growing interest in determining whether there are true benefits to come from gently touching dementia patients.
A total of 110 nursing home residents with dementia were studied in the two clinical trials. Researchers in one study 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, regardless of whether calming music was an accompaniment, helped soothe dementia patients' agitation levels for a short period.
In general, there is reason to believe that massage and other forms of touch could prove helpful for dementia patients, according to Hansen. On the physiological level, touch could affect the release of hormones that regulate anxiety and agitation, for example.
Then there's the "common sense psychological level," Hansen told Reuters. Physical contact, he explained, 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, Hansen said, human touch may again become the easiest way, or even the only way, to communicate.

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