Background. Over recent years multi-sensory stimulation (MSS) has become an increasingly popular approach to care and is used in several centres throughout Europe. This popularity could be explained by the limited alternatives available to staff and a widely held belief that MSS is a friendly and highly humane approach. A randomized controlled trial was therefore essential to evaluate the effectiveness and extent of the benefits of MSS.
Aim. To assess whether MSS is more effective in changing the behaviour, mood and cognition of older adults with dementia than a control of activity (playing card games, looking at photographs, doing quizzes, etc.).
Methods. A total of 136 patients from three countries [United Kingdom (UK), the Netherlands and Sweden] were randomized to MSS or activity groups. Patients participated in eight 30-minute sessions over 4 weeks. Ratings of behaviour and mood were taken before, during and after sessions to investigate immediate effects. Pre-, mid-, post-trial and follow-up assessments were taken to investigate any generalization of effects to cognition and behaviour and mood at home/on the ward or at the day hospital.
Results. There were limited short-term improvements for both the MSS and activity groups immediately after sessions, and limited short-term improvements between the groups during sessions. There were no significant differences between the groups when assessing change in behaviour, mood or cognition at home/on the ward or at the day hospital. In the UK, however, behaviour at the day hospital for both groups remained stable during the trial but deteriorated once the sessions had stopped, and active/disturbed behaviour at home improved but likewise deteriorated once sessions had stopped.
Conclusions. Overall, MSS was found to be no more effective than an activity in changing the behaviour, mood or cognition of patients with dementia in the short- or long-term.