More than Half of Alzheimer’s Patients Aged 90 or Older Have Used Psychotropic Drugs

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

Share this article:

Share article via email
psychotropic drug use in older Alzheimer's patients

A recent research study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland has found that psychotropic drug use is more common than previously thought among Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients who were diagnosed at 90 years old or older, in comparison to those who were diagnosed at younger age.

The study found that patients diagnosed in this age group used antipsychotics five times more often and antidepressants 2.5 times more often than other Alzheimer’s patients. That means 56% of 90 or older Alzheimer’s patients were found to use psychotic drugs previously, whereas only 48% of younger Alzheimer’s patients did so.

The study similarly found that 38% of people aged 90 or older also were on psychotropic drugs, even though they had not been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

However, researchers also found that Alzheimer’s patients aged 90 or more used anti-dementia drugs less frequently than younger Alzheimer’s patients (63% vs. 72%, respectively).

Titled “Drug use in persons with and without Alzheimer’s disease aged 90 years or more,” the study’s results were published in the September issue of Age and Ageing.

According to a press release, this study was conducted using the MEDALZ study cohort, which includes data from patients in Finland six months after diagnoses of Alzheimer’s. The study collected data from 67,215 people who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s between 2005 and 2011. Researchers included comparison groups with the same age, gender and region of residence without the disease, taken from Finnish nationwide registers.

The scientific community uses the term “psychotropic drugs” to refer to antipsychotics, antidepressants, benzodiazepines and related drugs used for anxiety or insomnia in short-term treatments. Psychotropic drugs have been linked to a significant increased risk of adverse reactions among older users. The study concluded that the most vulnerable population of Alzheimer’s patients, the oldest people, is being prescribed a substantial amount of psychotropic drugs.

It has been previously documented that older adults are highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of psychotropics. According to “Psychotropic Medication Use among Older Adults: What All Nurses Need to Know,” those older than 70 are already 3.5 times more likely than younger individuals to be admitted to the hospital due to adverse reactions associated with psychotropics, and this risk increases with the number of medications used and with increasing age. These findings are concerning and researchers say that safety of drug use should be regularly assessed.