Behavioral interventions for agitation in older adults with dementia: An evaluative review

Adam P. Spira, Barry A. Edelstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Background: Older adults with dementia commonly exhibit agitated behavior that puts them at risk of injury and institutionalization and is associated with caregiver stress. A range of theoretical approaches has produced numerous interventions to manage these behavior problems. This paper critically reviews the empirical literature on behavioral interventions to reduce agitation in older adults with dementia. Method: A literature search yielded 23 articles that met inclusion criteria. These articles described interventions that targeted wandering, disruptive vocalization, physical aggression, other agitated behaviors and a combination of these behaviors. Studies are summarized individually and then evaluated. Results: Behavioral interventions targeting agitated behavior exhibited by older adults with dementia show considerable promise. A number of methodological issues must be addressed to advance this research area. Problem areas include inconsistent use of functional assessment techniques, failure to report quantitative findings and inadequate demonstrations of experimental control. Conclusions: The reviewed studies collectively provide evidence that warrants optimism regarding the application of behavioral principles to the management of agitation among older adults with dementia. Although the results of some studies were mixed and several studies revealed methodological shortcomings, many of them offered innovations that can be used in future, more rigorously designed, intervention studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-225
Number of pages31
JournalInternational psychogeriatrics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavior management
  • Memory disorders
  • Operant conditioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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