Foot massage and physiological stress in people with dementia : a randomized controlled trial

Moyle, Wendy, Cooke, Marie Louise, Beattie, Elizabeth, Shum, David, O'Dwyer, Siobhan T., Barrett, Sue, & Sung, Billy (2014) Foot massage and physiological stress in people with dementia : a randomized controlled trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(4), pp. 305-311.

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There is increasing interest in using complementary and alternative treatments to manage behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia such as agitation, aggression and depressed mood.


To compare the effect of foot massage (intervention) and quiet presence (control) on agitation and mood in people with dementia.


A randomised controlled trial using a within-subjects, crossover design.


Five long-term care facilities in Brisbane, Australia. The primary outcome was the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory (CMAI) and the secondary outcome was the Observed Emotion Rating Scale (OERS). The screening and data collection research assistants, families, and care staff were blinded to participant allocation.


Participants of the study were 55 long-term care residents aged 74–103 years (mean age 86.5), with moderate to severe dementia and a history of agitated behaviour according to the Pittsburgh Agitation Scale. A computer-program randomised participants to 10-min foot massage (intervention) or quiet presence (control), every weekday for 3 weeks.


A carry-over effect was identified in the data, and so the data was treated as a parallel groups RCT. The mean total CMAI increased in both groups (reflecting an increase in agitation) with this increase greater in the quiet presence group than the foot massage group (p=0.03). There was a trend towards a difference on OERS General Alertness, with a positive change in alertness for participants in the foot massage group (indicating reduced alertness) and a negative change for participants in the quiet presence group (indicating increased alertness) (F(1,51)=3.88, p=0.05, partial ή2=0.07).


The findings highlight the need for further research on the specific conditions under which massage might promote relaxation and improve mood for people with dementia. The unfamiliar research assistants and variations in usual activity may have contributed to the increase in agitation and this needs further research.

Impact and interest:

5 citations in Scopus
6 citations in Web of Science®
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ID Code: 66558
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: physiological stress, behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, complementary therapies, dementia, massage
DOI: 10.1089/acm.2013.0177
ISSN: 1075-5535
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE (110400) > Complementary and Alternative Medicine not elsewhere classified (110499)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > NURSING (111000) > Aged Care Nursing (111001)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2014 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
Copyright Statement: This is a copy of an article published in the The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine © 2014 copyright Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.; The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine is available online at:
Deposited On: 02 Feb 2014 23:12
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2017 14:43

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