Behavioral health care — not drugs — for dementia

Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:


Behavioral health care — not drugs — for dementia

Antipsychotic medications have proved ineffective at reducing the symptoms associated with dementia. They also have serious side effects in older adults, including restlessness, dizziness, higher likelihood of falls and other problems that can contribute to an increased risk of death.

Behavioral health interventions, on the other hand, have no such side effects and have been found effective in reducing behaviors such as aggression, care refusal and wandering.

Employing behavioral health techniques with people with dementia becomes increasingly valuable as facilities in this country endeavor to follow the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services guidelines and reduce the use of antipsychotic medications.

Global efforts

Dementia care is a pressing issue around the world, and other countries have made headway in shifting from medication to behavioral interventions. Psychologist Paula E. Hartman-Stein, Ph.D., of The Center for Healthy Aging, writes about international programs that implement behavioral health methods in the September/October edition of The National Psychologist.

Dr. Hartman-Stein spoke with Cameron Camp, Ph.D., an expert who consults with long-term care facilities in the United States and abroad.


Dr. Camp reports that the French government pays nursing homes to train their staff in non-pharmacological approaches to dementia. The training includes various strategies, including Montessori techniques such as those described by Dr. Camp in his excellent book, “Hiding the Stranger in the Mirror,” and other publications.


Camp notes that Alzheimer’s Australia provides funding to train staff in behavioral health approaches. Its website, Alzheimer’s Australia Information for Health Professionals, offers helpful information and brief videos that explain the techniques used.


In Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement reports on the success “beyond the team’s expectations” of an effort to reduce antipsychotic medications and implement non-pharmacological approaches. The project saved $400,000 in six months across the Winnipeg region.

STAR-VA in the USA

Here in the United States, the Veterans Health Administration, less constrained by the fee-for-service psychotherapy model that plagues the rest of the country, utilizes staff psychologists and other behavioral health professionals in their Staff Training in Assisted Living Residences (STAR-VA) model.

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Behavioral health care — not drugs — for dementia


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