Reducing agitation in residents with dementia using preferred activities

Recent psychology research shows reduced levels of agitation in nursing home residents with dementia, some to the point of not being considered agitated at all.

This promising study used a structured yes/no list to find the types of activities the residents found pleasurable either now or in the past, such as listening to jazz music or spending time with family members. The researchers presented participants with paired choices of desirable objects, such as different colored balloons or fabric. They also examined the times and reasons the residents appeared to be agitated, such as an apparent need to “escape” during the busy change of shift.

What I’ll want to look at.

One resident wandered and jiggled the doorknobs of the rooms of other residents when he was left alone. Giving him his preferred objects (jazz music on a CD walkman, purple fabric, etc.) significantly reduced his agitation. The resident who became agitated during busy times needed to be presented with her preferred objects (a family photo album, a felt flower, etc.) before she became agitated and difficult to engage, but she also showed a dramatic improvement in behavior.

While readers might not use all the elements of this study simultaneously, there are many aspects that can be incorporated into our daily routines.

For further information, click here to see the study.

Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed psychologist consulting in long-term care facilities in the New York City area. She frequently lectures on subjects related to psychology, aging, and nursing homes. Dr. Barbera is available for private consulting with organizations, institutions, and individuals around eldercare issues. Visit her personal blog at

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