Older dementia patients being prescribed medications which could worsen their condition, study finds

The lead author behind a new University of Otago study is calling for improvements to prescriptions after their findings revealed that older dementia patients were frequently being prescribed medications which could worsen their condition.

The study, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, looked at more than 16,500 individuals who underwent an International Resident Assessment-Home Care assessment in 2015, of which 13 per cent had been diagnosed with dementia.

Of that number, 67 per cent of the patients were found to be prescribed potentially inappropriate medications which left them at risk of delirium, worsening cognitive impairment and increased mortality.

It also found that 40 per cent of those diagnosed with dementia were being prescribed anticholinergic medications, which are typically used to treat a number of medical conditions, including an overactive bladder, allergies, depression, and to help manage the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

The drugs may also cause impairment in cognition and worsen patients' cognitive decline.

Lead author Dr Sharmin Bala is calling for regular reviews to ensure safe prescribing.

Dr Bala said, "The findings of the study indicate that the quality of prescribing needs to be improved. It is also imperative that medications prescribed to older adults with dementia, especially medications that have anticholinergic side effects, are reviewed regularly by medical professionals to ensure safe prescribing".

"Safe prescribing in individuals with dementia has the potential to mitigate critical adverse effects associated with the prescription of these medications and improve the quality of life in this vulnerable population."

More than 62,000 New Zealanders were diagnosed with dementia in 2016.

The number is expected to increase to nearly 170,000 by 2050.

Senior Woman Alone in Dark Room.

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