Foot Massage and Physiological Stress in People with Dementia: A Randomized Controlled Trial
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Background: The anxiety associated with unfamiliar surroundings, the disorientation and mental confusion, and the social isolation that accompanies dementia can often create increased stress for people living in long-term care settings. Such a response is thought to affect the autonomic nervous system and result in emotional and physical symptoms of distress that may be manifested as agitation. There is the potential for such distress to influence the physiological response and in particular Blood Pressure and Heart Rate. A relaxation intervention such as massage may influence the physiological stress response. Methods: This randomized controlled trial aimed to compare the effect of foot massage (FM) versus a control activity (quiet presence, QP) on physiological stress response (i.e., blood pressure [BP] and heart rate [HR]) in people living with moderate-to-severe dementia in long-term-care settings. Results: Fifty-three residents were randomized to intervention (10-minute FM) or control group (QP). While the FM group experienced a greater reduction in HR than the control group, these reductions were not significantly different between groups (p=0.83; see Table 1), or across time (p=0.46). Both groups experienced a reduction in systolic BP and diastolic BP, while the mean reduction in systolic BP was greater for those in the FM group. Conclusions: While the findings do not provide strong support for FM, the finding that both conditions allowed the person with dementia to rest in the presence of another human being is of importance in the care of people with dementia. The close presence of another person may in fact promote relaxation and therefore improve BP and HR measures.
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