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Evidence to Improve Care

Behavioural Symptoms of Dementia - Clinical Guide

Care for Patients in Hospitals and Residents in Long-Term Care Homes

Click below to see a list of brief quality statements and scroll down for more information.​​


Quality standards are sets of concise statements designed to help health care professionals easily and quickly know what care to provide, based on the best evidence. ​

See below for the quality statements and click for more detail.​


Quality Statement 1: Comprehensive Assessment
People living with dementia and symptoms of agitation or aggression receive a comprehensive interprofessional assessment when symptoms are first identified and after each transition in care.


Quality Statement 2: Individualized Care Plan
People living with dementia and symptoms of agitation or aggression have an individualized care plan that is developed, implemented, and reviewed on a regular basis with caregivers and agreed upon by substitute decision-makers. Ongoing review and update of care plans includes documentation of behavioural symptoms and the person’s responses to interventions.


Quality Statement 3: Individualized Nonpharmacological Interventions
People living with dementia and symptoms of agitation or aggression receive nonpharmacological interventions that are tailored to their specific needs, symptoms, and preferences, as specified in their individualized care plan.


Quality Statement 4: Indications for Psychotropic Medications
People living with dementia are prescribed psychotropic medications to help reduce agitation or aggression only when they pose a risk of harm to themselves or others or are in severe distress.


Quality Statement 5: Titrating and Monitoring Psychotropic Medications
People living with dementia who are prescribed psychotropic medications to help reduce agitation or aggression are started on low dosages, with the dosage increased gradually to reach the minimum effective dosage for each patient, within an appropriate range. Target symptoms for the use of the psychotropic medication are monitored and documented.


Quality Statement 6: Switching Psychotropic Medications
People living with dementia who are prescribed psychotropic medications to help reduce agitation or aggression have their medication discontinued and an alternative psychotropic medication prescribed if symptoms do not improve after a maximum of 8 weeks. Ineffective medications are discontinued to avoid polypharmacy. The reasons for the changes in medication and the consideration of alternative psychotropic medications are documented.


Quality Statement 7: Medication Review for Dosage Reduction or Discontinuation
People living with dementia who are prescribed psychotropic medications to help reduce agitation or aggression receive a documented medication review on a regular basis to consider reducing the dosage or discontinuing the medication.


Quality Statement 8: Mechanical Restraint
People living with dementia are not mechanically restrained to manage agitation or aggression.


Quality Statement 9: Informed Consent
People living with dementia and symptoms of agitation or aggression are advised of the risks and benefits of treatment options, and informed consent is obtained and documented before treatment is initiated. If a person with dementia is incapable of consenting to the proposed treatment, informed consent is obtained from their substitute decision-maker.


Quality Statement 10: Specialized Interprofessional Care Team
People living with dementia and symptoms of agitation or aggression have access to services from an interprofessional team that provides specialized care for the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.


Quality Statement 11: Provider Training and Education
People living with dementia and symptoms of agitation or aggression receive care from providers with training and education in the assessment and management of dementia and its behavioural symptoms.


Quality Statement 12: Caregiver Training and Education
Caregivers of people living with dementia and symptoms of agitation or aggression have access to comprehensive training and education on dementia and its associated behavioural symptoms. This training and education includes management strategies that are consistent with people’s care plans.


Quality Statement 13: Appropriate Care Environment
People living with dementia and symptoms of agitation or aggression whose behavioural symptoms have been successfully treated are transitioned to an appropriate care environment as soon as possible.


Quality Statement 14: Transitions in Care
People living with dementia and symptoms of agitation or aggression who transition between settings have a team or provider who is accountable for coordination and communication. This team or provider ensures the transmission of complete and accurate information to the family, caregivers, and receiving providers prior to the transition.

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Titrating and Monitoring Psychotropic Medications

People living with dementia who are prescribed psychotropic medications to help reduce agitation or aggression are started on low dosages, with the dosage increased gradually to reach the minimum effective dosage for each patient, within an appropriate range. Target symptoms for the use of the psychotropic medication are monitored and documented.


People living with dementia are usually elderly, often with comorbid conditions, and may be at increased risk for adverse effects from pharmacological agents. To reduce the risk of adverse events, initial low dosages of medications are suggested, with slow titration to reach the optimal tolerated therapeutic dosage. Frequency of monitoring is dependent on individual factors including symptoms, the onset of action, and risks associated with the medications provided.

For Patients

If they are used, medications should be started at a low dosage and gradually increased until your symptoms improve.


For Clinicians

When prescribing psychotropic medication, start with a low dosage and gradually increase it to reach the minimum effective dosage for the person, within an appropriate range. Regularly monitor and document the person’s target symptoms.


For Health Services

Ensure there are systems, processes, and resources in place in hospitals and longterm care homes for appropriately introducing and adjusting the use of psychotropic medications and monitoring people’s target symptoms.

Process Indicator

Percentage of people living with dementia and symptoms of agitation or aggression receiving psychotropic medications who have their target symptoms monitored and documented

  • Denominator: total number of people living with dementia and symptoms of agitation or aggression who are prescribed a psychotropic medication
  • Numerator: number of people in the denominator whose target symptoms are monitored and documented
  • Data source: local data collection
Psychotropic medications

These categories of psychotropic medications are typically used for reducing symptoms of agitation and aggression in people living with dementia:

  • Antipsychotics

  • Antidepressants

  • Mood stabilizers

  • Benzodiazepines

  • Other hypnotics

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