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Cognitive behaviour therapy

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people with dementia and their carers. It tells you about cognitive behaviour therapy, a treatment that's been tried for dementia. It's based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

We don't really know. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) may help people with dementia who acting aggressively or who have behaviour problems because of their condition. But better research needs to be done to know for sure.

What is it?

CBT is a kind of talking treatment ( psychotherapy). During CBT, you talk to a therapist about your problems.

CBT is based on the idea that the thoughts you have and the assumptions you make about life can change the way you behave. One aim of CBT is to change people's way of thinking to help them look at things more positively.

CBT also looks at how you react to problems, and aims to help you behave in helpful, rather than unhelpful ways.


For conditions like depression, CBT is a successful treatment that can make you feel better. We don't know so much about the benefits of CBT for people with dementia, because not much research has been done. But it seems that CBT can help people with dementia be less aggressive, behave in less difficult ways, and sleep better. [33] But we need more research to be sure.

How does it work?

CBT aims to change the way you think and behave. So, if the way you think is making you depressed, or angry,or if you respond by behaving in ways that are difficult for others to cope with, it should help. it. It aims to break vicious circles that can result from feeling bad, behaving in unhelpful ways (getting unnecessarily angry, for example), and then feeling worse.


The research didn't find any particular side effects. But it did say that people with dementia might find it difficult to take part in CBT, and so might have feelings of failure and humiliation. [33]

How good is the research?

The research on CBT for depression isn't very good. We found one review of six studies. [33] Two of the studies said people with dementia who had CBT were less aggressive. But a third study found that people with dementia who had CBT were just as likely to get easily upset as those who didn't.

In two more studies, staff at care homes said that people with dementia who had CBT behaved in less difficult ways, but another study found no changes in behaviour.

One other small study found that a CBT-type approach helped people with dementia sleep better.



Psychotherapy is a talking treatment. It is given by trained therapists (such as a psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers). Psychotherapy usually consists of regular sessions (often weekly) between the therapist and the patient. There are many types of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal therapy.

For more terms related to Dementia


For references related to Dementia click here.
Last Updated: August 15, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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