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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Behavioral and psychological symptoms are difficult for dementia patients and their caregivers, but despite research efforts, there are still gaps in knowledge about what causes or precipitates these symptoms, according to researchers.

In a review, the researchers analyzed previously published studies on the causes and precipitants of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). They found that while there have been many studies on patient determinants — individual characteristics within the person suffering from dementia — research was lacking in other areas.

“We found that there haven’t been many studies done on how a patient’s caregiver or environment can trigger or affect these symptoms,” said Ann Kolanowski, professor of nursing at Penn State. “In order to best treat people living with dementia, we need to learn more about all the possible causes of behavioral and psychological symptoms, and further research into these specific areas is needed.”

Dementia — which affects 47.5 million people worldwide — is almost always accompanied by BPSD. These symptoms, which include such behaviors as aggression and agitation, contribute to a poorer quality of life and a more rapid decline in cognitive and physical abilities.