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Review of family therapy and dementia: twenty-five years on

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 July 2014

Susan Mary Benbow*
Centre for Ageing Studies, University of Chester, Chester, UK
Victoria Sharman
V2Recovery Ltd, Harrow, Middlesex, UK
Correspondence should be addressed to: Dr Susan Mary Benbow, Centre for Ageing Studies, Faculty of Health and Social Care, University of Chester, Room CRV305/6, Riverside Campus, Chester CH1 1SL, UK. Phone: +44-1244-512249; Mobile: +44-7789-485435. Email:



We reviewed the literature on family therapy and dementia to investigate the following: what is known about the use of family therapy in the context of living with dementia; what are the challenges of working in this context; and what guidelines/models are available to guide family therapists working with families living with dementia.


We searched English language literature from 1992 onwards, classified the resulting papers into broad categories of theoretical, expository, or research (descriptive, quantitative, or qualitative), and conducted a narrative review to draw learning points from the identified papers.


In total 31 papers were identified: five theoretical, 11 expository; and 15 research papers. Several papers described methodologies; psychotherapeutic interventions applied to family members; or complex intervention packages in which the role of family therapy could not be separately identified, rather than family therapy. A range of outcomes were investigated, often involving the caregiver. Several authors suggest areas in dementia care where family therapy is likely to be beneficial.


Although the literature on family therapy and dementia has grown over the past 25 years and suggests potentially useful roles for therapy, a number of challenges exist in terms of context, family, and therapy itself. There is a need for further research, particularly into the following fields: How to evaluate the success of therapy; how to ensure treatment integrity; how to make techniques from family therapy available more widely; and how to train the health and social care workforce in working with families.

Review Article
Copyright © International Psychogeriatric Association 2014 

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