Patients suffering from dementia are 17 per cent more likely to be given prescriptions for medications they don’t need. According to a study carried out by the University of Sydney, those with the neurodegenerative condition are often given drugs to treat ailments such as acid reflux, when they are not required.
Dr Danijela Gnjidic, lead author of the research, said: “Our study found that following a diagnosis of dementia in older people, the use of potentially inappropriate medications increased by 17 per cent. A number of reasons may account for this, including difficulties with comprehension and communication.”
Among the issues associated with taking unnecessary medication is that it can increase drowsiness and sedation. In turn, this can lead to falls, fractures and hospitalisations, which all have a potential impact on independent living and further complications.
The study found that in the aftermath of a dementia diagnosis in older people, an average 11 per cent increase in medication was prescribed. While many of the drugs are initially recommended for short-term use, they are often administered on an ongoing basis.
Dr Gnjidic outlined a number of reasons why this situation may have become the norm. She pointed towards inadequate guidelines, limited time during patient consultations, diminished capacity in decision making, problems with communication and barriers to establishing care goals.
Better communication between doctors and pharmacists, dementia patients and their care givers would help to make decisions on medication to be made in a more informed manner. Continually re-evaluating prescriptions is another measure that could prove beneficial.
Dr Gnjidic summarised: “Further efforts are clearly needed to support better recognition of potentially inappropriate medications to minimise possible harms and warrants interventions to minimise such prescribing. De-prescribing unnecessary medications may improve an individual's quality of life and can reduce unnecessary healthcare costs.”
Some 850,000 people have dementia in the UK and without a cure, the number is set to rise to one million by 2025 and two million by 2051. These figures are provided by the Alzheimer’s Society, which states that one in six people over the age of 80 are affected by the condition.
While many of the potential treatments for dementia that are being developed by pharmaceutical companies are not living up to expectations at the clinical trial stage, it is important that everything is done to maintain the quality of life for dementia patients in the short term.
Relatives of dementia sufferers may find that having their loved ones in a care home gives them the peace of mind that medications are monitored and measures taken to prevent trips and falls. Having staff on hand to aid in everyday tasks is vital for dementia patients, as declining cognitive function can make everything from washing to dressing difficult.