Introduction. Over the last three decades, interest has grown in the use of psychosocial interventions for people with dementia. Empirical studies and systematic reviews have been undertaken on a range of such interventions to examine their effectiveness. However, little account has been taken of the appropriateness of psychosocial interventions for people in different stages of the illness. This raises important questions about the degree to which the research evidence can be generalized for people in the milder and the more severe stages of dementia. This systematic review was undertaken therefore to investigate the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions for people with a milder dementing illness.
Methods. A comprehensive search was undertaken using all the major health care databases, as well as various grey literature sources. For studies to be included in the review, they must have investigated the effect of one or more psychosocial intervention on people with a milder dementing illness, employing a controlled trial design, and measuring outcomes such as cognitive ability, communication, functional performance and well-being. Identified studies were critically appraised, and where suitable for inclusion, data were extracted.
Results. Four studies met the final inclusion criteria for the review, and covered three psychosocial interventions: reality orientation, procedural memory stimulation and counselling. No evidence was found for the effectiveness of counselling and procedural memory stimulation on the outcome measures used. However, some evidence was found that reality orientation is effective in improving cognitive ability, with a demonstrable long-term gain using follow-up data.
Conclusions. The review provides some evidence for the use of reality orientation for people in the milder stages of dementia. However, due to the small sample sizes in all the included studies, more research is needed into the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions for this client group. Implications for nursing practice are discussed, and recommendations for future research are set out.