3 evidence-based strategies for those living with dementia and their caregivers

The Bottom Line

  • Dementia directly or indirectly touches the lives of many around the world.
  • Active music-making therapies, engaging in meaningful activities, and a slew of non-drug strategies have the potential to help people living with dementia improve their cognitive or psychological health.
  • Whether for yourself or a loved one, consult with your healthcare team about the wide variety of strategies or combination of strategies that you can lean on for support.  

The stats speak for themselves. Every three seconds, someone somewhere in the world develops dementia (1;2).   

Most of us likely know, have known, or will know someone living with dementia, making becoming familiar with strategies that may help improve the health and well-being of those living with dementia valuable. Similar to visual art therapy and cognitive training, which have previously been discussed, here are few more helpful strategies to try (3-7).

Click on the links below to learn more.

1. Unleash your inner musician

Active music-making therapies, such as singing, improvisation, reacting to a sound, and playing percussion instruments—involve an individual physically participating in music. Preliminary research shows that active music-making therapy may result in small but meaningful improvements in cognitive functioning in older adults with cognitive impairment or mild to moderate dementia. Folks interested in this strategy should seek out programs developed and delivered by professionals, such as occupational therapists, psychologists with musical expertise, and music therapists (5).

2. Engage in meaningful activities

Some models of care prioritize people’s interests, wishes, habits, and unique abilities (6;8;9). Research shows that engaging in meaningful activities outside of one’s residential aged care facility may enhance well-being and mood, as well as decrease depressive and behavioural symptoms in people living with dementia. Meaningful activities can be anything from swimming to art gallery visits to walking to outdoor gardening. Still, more research is needed to understand this strategy and determine the ideal activities for improving psychological health and well-being (6).  

3. Trial non-drug strategies

Millions of people living with dementia experience depressive symptoms but do not receive an official diagnosis of depression (7;10-12). Research shows that, in this population, non-drug treatments such as cognitive stimulation alone, cognitive stimulation plus exercise and social interaction, occupational therapy, massage and touch therapies, reminiscence therapy, and multidisciplinary care may help decrease depressive symptoms. Some non-drug treatments may even be superior to certain medications (7).

More and more strategies are becoming available to help those with dementia and their caregivers live as well as possible with dementia. Whether you are an individual living with dementia or a caregiver, consult with your healthcare team to determine what approaches may be beneficial for you or your loved ones.  

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Author Details


  1. Leng M, Zhao Y, Wang Z. Comparative efficacy of non-pharmacological interventions on agitation in people with dementia: A systematic review and Bayesian network meta-analysis. Int J Nurs Stud. 2020; 102:103489. 
  2. Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), 2018. World Alzheimer report 2018: The state of the art of dementia research: new frontiers. [Internet] 2023. [cited March 2023]. Available from https://www.alzint.org/u/WorldAlzheimerReport2018.pdf
  3. Malika GM, Yu DSF, Li PWC. Visual art therapy as a treatment option for cognitive decline among older adults. A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Adv Nurs. 2020; 76:1892-1910.  
  4. Chan JYC, Chan TK, Kwok TCY, et al. Cognitive training interventions and depression in mild cognitive impairment and dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Age Ageing. 2020; 49:738-747.  
  5. Dorris JL, Neely S, Terhorst L, et al. Effects of music participation for mild cognitive impairment and dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2021; 69(9):2659-2667. doi: 10.1111/jgs.17208.
  6. D'Cunha NM, Isbel S, McKune AJ, et al. Activities outside of the care setting for people with dementia: A systematic review. BMJ Open. 2020; 10:e040753. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-040753.
  7. Watt JA, Goodarzi Z, Veroniki AA, et al. Comparative efficacy of interventions for reducing symptoms of depression in people with dementia: Systematic review and network meta-analysis. BMJ. 2021; 372:n532. 
  8. McDermott O, Charlesworth G, Hogervorst E, et coll. Psychosocial interventions for people with dementia: A synthesis of systematic reviews. Aging Ment Health. 2019; 23:393-403. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2017.1423031.
  9. Sidani S, Streiner D, Leclerc C. Evaluating the effectiveness of the abilities-focused approach to morning care of people with dementia. Int J Older People Nurs. 2012; 7:37-45. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-3743.2011.00273.x.
  10. Goodarzi ZS, Mele BS, Roberts DJ, et al. Depression case finding in individuals with dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017; 65:937-948. doi:10.1111/jgs.14713. 
  11. Asmer MS, Kirkham J, Newton H, et al. Meta-Analysis of the prevalence of major depressive disorder among older adults with dementia. J Clin Psychiatry. 2018; 79:17r11772. doi:10.4088/JCP.17r11772.  
  12. World Health Organization. Dementia. [Internet] 2023. [cited March 2023]. Available from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia

    DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

    Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.