Elder care blog A Place for Mom recently published an article on antipsychotic drugs causing death in elderly patients. Over a six-month period, elderly anti-psychotic drug patients with dementia were twice as likely to die as those who did not use these drugs.
The FDA has warned that treatment of dementia with antipsychotic drugs increases the risk of death in elderly patients. Is cannabis for dementia the solution?
It is commonly known that many of our elderly citizens are over-prescribed with medication, and that they sometimes take medicines that clash. For this reason families of elderly people, and especially those diagnosed with dementia, should ask physicians to do an edit on medication, or to review prescriptions every now and then.
As we age, atrophy sets in and symptoms increase. Doctors then prescribe medication for the latest symptom, sometimes not taking previous chronic medication into account.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 177,000 elderly adults end up in the emergency room due to problematic medication. Prescription drugs might even cause memory problems.
Quality of life should still be seen as a priority in elderly people. If symptoms can be treated in such a way that quality of life could be increased or maintained, this should always be a priority, even in the last days of a patient’s life.
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Antipsychotic drugs in dementia
Even though the FDA has warned that the treatment of dementia with antipsychotic drugs carries the risk of death in elderly patients, these drugs are still prescribed. The medication is used to calm down dementia patients who become agitated and could even become violent.
The second-generation antipsychotic drugs the FDA warns about, known as atypical antipsychotics, as well as conventional, first-generation antipsychotics, are often considered a last resort.
Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said the perception that nursing homes put patients on these drugs to keep them quiet is not true, as these medicines are only prescribed as a last resort.
Rather try and determine the cause of agitation
Psychiatrist Jenny McCleery says the use of these drugs in this patient population is still too prevalent. Many conditions could contribute to agitation and aggression in cases of dementia, which is why a full assessment should be done, to look for these causes, before such drugs are prescribed.
Is there no alternative?
Marijuana use has doubled in the U.S. Older people above the age of 55 are starting to use marijuana to address various symptoms. A small study of 50 dementia patients on marijuana pills containing the active ingredients of marijuana, showed no significant improvement in symptoms of agitation, aggression and wandering in comparison to placebo. More research is needed, however, as CBD from hemp is believed to have anti-psychotic properties.
Cannabis for dementia
Cannabis for dementia is not ruled out and still has potential, especially as it has very few known side effects. Research still needs to prove whether medical cannabis could have benefit for use as a dementia treatment.