As Elders Rock, Emotional Burden Of Dementia Eases

April 25, 1998

Nursing home residents who have dementia can literally rock away their anxiety and depression, nurse researchers have found, simply by rocking back and forth in a rocking chair for about an hour or two a day. Patients who rocked the most in a research study even requested less medication to ease their daily aches and pains, and their balance improved.

Nurses from the University of Rochester presented the work at a meeting of the Eastern Nursing Research Society April 23-25 in Rochester.

"There's the stereotype of older people on a porch happily going back and forth in their rocking chairs," says nurse researcher Nancy Watson. "It turns out that the activity really does bring some peace of mind to many folks.

"It's been very well documented with infants that a gentle repetitive motion has a soothing effect. We've shown that the same is true in an older population that is emotionally distressed."

In a study funded by the New York State Department of Health, Watson studied 25 nursing home residents diagnosed as having dementia, either due to Alzheimer's disease or other causes. Nurses at Kirkhaven, a nursing home in Rochester, closely monitored patient behavior for the six weeks residents rocked and compared it to their behavior during six weeks when the rocking mechanism on the chairs was disabled.

During the weeks they rocked, most residents' psychological and emotional well-being improved, says Watson, an assistant professor in the University's School of Nursing and an expert in gerontological nursing research, an area where the University is ranked among the top 10 nationwide.

"Right away, nursing aides noticed the most dramatic effect: The chair served to calm someone down when he or she was emotionally upset. The aide helped the resident to the chair and got them rocking, and it calmed the patient right down."

In the study, residents rocked for anywhere from half an hour to two and a half hours each day for five days a week. While not all the residents improved, those who rocked the most improved the most, Watson says. "The more they rocked, the better they felt."

Behaviors like crying or expressions of anxiety, tension, and depression dropped in the 11 patients who rocked more than 80 minutes a day. Such behaviors fell anywhere from slightly to almost one-third.

Several patients also requested less pain medication during weeks they rocked, Watson says; generally, those who rocked the most asked for pain medication less often, ranging from a very slight reduction to two or three fewer requests per week. Patients who rocked less asked for at least as much pain medication, and sometimes more.

Zealous rockers also improved their balance, a huge concern among the elderly population, where a fall often leads to drastically scaled-back quality of life. Watson says it's possible that the gentle rocking motion helped stimulate the residents' vestibular system, which helps maintain balance.

Residents used platform-style rocking chairs that work like conventional rockers but have a super-stable, immobile base and move back and forth very easily. Aides gradually introduced residents to the chairs, encouraging but not pushing residents to rock.

Watson says that nursing home staff and loved ones of residents who seem happier and less anxious have been very interested in the research. She says rocking-chair therapy could become an important treatment tool for the approximately 1.6 million people in U.S. nursing homes, more than half of whom suffer from some form of dementia.

"Rocking provides a worthwhile, mild form of exercise for these people," says Watson. "It would be difficult to take every patient for a walk, for instance, but residents can rock themselves, and many are happy to do so, given a little encouragement. This is an easy step to improve the quality of life for people in nursing homes."

University of Rochester

Related Dementia Articles from Brightsurf:

The danger of Z-drugs for dementia patients
Strong sleeping pills known as 'Z-drugs' are linked with an increased risk of falls, fractures and stroke among people with dementia, according to new research.

The long road to dementia
Alzheimer's disease develops over decades. It begins with a fatal chain reaction in which masses of misfolded beta-amyloid proteins are produced that in the end literally flood the brain.

Why people with dementia go missing
People with dementia are more likely to go missing in areas where road networks are dense, complicated and disordered - according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

PTSD may double risk of dementia
People who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are up to twice as likely to develop dementia later in life, according to a new study by UCL researchers, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Dementia education
School-based dementia education could deliver much needed empathy and understanding for older generations as new research from the University of South Australia shows it can significantly improve dementia knowledge and awareness among younger generations.

Building dementia friendly churches
A project to help church communities become more 'dementia friendly' has had a significant impact across the country.

A "feeling" for dementia?
A research team led by the DZNE concludes that personal perception can be an important indicator for the early detection of Alzheimer's disease.

New biomarker for dementia diagnosis
Medical researchers in the UK and Australia have identified a new marker which could support the search for novel preventative and therapeutic treatments for dementia.

Digital solutions for dementia care
Telehealth delivery of dementia care in the home can be as effective as face-to-face home visit services if carers and recipients take advantage of the technologies available, Australian researchers say.

Despite a marked reduction in the prevalence of dementia, the number of people with dementia is set to double by 2050 according to new Alzheimer Europe report
Today, at a European Parliament lunch debate, Alzheimer Europe launched a new report presenting the findings of its collaborative analysis of recent prevalence studies and setting out updated prevalence rates for dementia in Europe.

Read More: Dementia News and Dementia Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to