Recently, there has been increasing interest toward nonpharmacological approaches for dementia and associated clinical manifestations, such as depression, with the common goal to improve health and quality of life of both patients and caregivers. In this scenario, the role of Shiatsu is of clinical and research interest, although to date a definitive recommendation on a systematic use in clinical practice cannot be made. To overcome the heterogeneity of the previous studies, we tested Shiatsu as an add-on treatment for late-life depression in a dedicated community of patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease. We found a significant adjuvant effect of Shiatsu for depression in these patients and hypothesized a neuroendocrine-mediated action on the neural circuits implicated in mood and affect regulation. However, this finding must be considered preliminary and requires confirmation in larger-scale controlled studies, possibly extending the range of outcome measures and including predictors of response. Future investigations should also include an objective assessment of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenocortical axis functioning. Nevertheless, starting from this pilot study, we suggest that a customized protocol applied for an adequate period in a controlled sample will represent a non-invasive and feasible advance for promoting patients' mood and, possibly, slowing cognitive decline.
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