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A controlled trial of a predominantly psychosocial approach to BPSD: treating causality

  • Michael Bird (a1), Robert H. Llewellyn Jones (a2) (a3), Ailsa Korten (a1) and Heather Smithers (a3)


Background: The adverse effects of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) are well described but treatment remains problematical, including overuse of psychotropic medication. This study aims to compare the outcome of two approaches to BPSD, one focusing on causality and using predominantly psychosocial interventions, the other relying predominantly on psychotropic medication.

Methods: Thirty-three residential care clients manifesting BPSD who had been referred to a community psychogeriatric service (intervention group) were assessed and treated, with the focus placed on the causes of the behavior and why it was perceived as a problem by nursing staff. Cases were managed primarily by psychosocial means with psychopharmacology as an adjunct. A control group was made up of 22 referrals to an adjacent service, which used primarily psychopharmacology with psychosocial methods as an occasional adjunct.

Results: Measures of behavior and staff response showed significant improvement in both groups at two- and five-months' follow-up. Antipsychotic use in the intervention group decreased over time while in the control group it increased. Service measures showed both groups required approximately the same number of clinical visits but the intervention group experienced fewer medication changes, fewer drug side effects, and all but one case could be treated in situ. Five control group participants spent extended periods as inpatients in a psychogeriatric unit. Minor sampling differences did not affect the results, and neither they nor the nature of the behavior explained the difference in clinical approach.

Conclusion: The causality-focused approach appears to be as effective as the more common predominantly pharmacological approach, and appears to involve lower human and financial costs.


Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to: Michael Bird, NSW Greater Southern Area Health Service, PO Box 1845, Queanbeyan, NSW 2620, Australia. Phone +61 2 6124 9874; Fax +61 6299 6363. Email:
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International Psychogeriatrics
  • ISSN: 1041-6102
  • EISSN: 1741-203X
  • URL: /core/journals/international-psychogeriatrics
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