“Dementia Drugs Require Caution”

A new study reports that nearly three-quarters of older adults with dementia have filled prescriptions for medicines that act on their brain and nervous system but aren’t designed for dementia. That’s despite the potentially harmful risks that such drugs carry for older adults and the lack of evidence that they actually ease the dementia-related behavior problems that often prompt a doctor’s prescription in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. In fact, some of the drugs have been linked to a worsening of cognitive symptoms in old adults. The study was published in the journal JAMA and based on data from 737,839 people with dementia and was the first large-scale study of prescription-filling patterns for psychoactive medications outside of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Nearly half of those in the study received an antidepressant, which might be prescribed to try to counteract the withdrawal and apathy often seen in dementia, but antidepressants don’t treat this aspect of dementia. Even so, the study shows antidepressant prescribing at nearly triple the rate for older adults overall. The new study suggests a need to reduce prescribing to people in nursing homes and those living at home with dementia, too. In all, 73.5% of the study’s community-based population filled at least one prescription for an antidepressant, opioid painkiller, epilepsy drug, anxiety medication, or antipsychotic drug in a one-year period.

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