Alzheimer’s Patients Using Antidepressants at Higher Risk of Head Injuries, Study Finds

Janet Stewart, MSc avatar

by Janet Stewart, MSc |

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The use of antidepressants in patients with Alzheimer’s disease increased their risk of head injuries, a Finnish study recently found. The risk of head injuries in these patients previously had not been studied. Head injuries are often a consequence of falls in older people.

The study, “Risk of head and traumatic brain injuries associated with antidepressant use among community-dwelling persons with Alzheimer’s disease: a nationwide matched cohort study,” was published this month in the journal Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy.

Because older people have a greater risk of falling, it is not surprising that head injuries are more common among the Alzheimer’s population. Antidepressant use already had been shown to increase the risk of falls and hip fractures in patients with Alzheimer’s. But this is the first time the risk of head injuries has been studied.

The research is part of a nationwide study known as MEDALZ, which looked at medication use in patients with Alzheimer’s in Finland between 2005 and 2011. The study examined the records of 10,910 Alzheimer’s patients using antidepressants and 21,820 who were not using them.

Patients with Alzheimer’s were found to be at a greater risk of head injuries while using antidepressants, especially during the first 30 days of taking them. That increased risk remained prevalent for up to two years. A greater risk for traumatic brain injuries also was seen in the study, but the difference in risk between patients with Alzheimer’s using antidepressants and those not using them was not as great as it was for head injuries.

“However, our findings give cause for concern because persons with Alzheimer’s disease frequently use antidepressants, which have been considered a safer alternative to, for example, benzodiazepines,” senior researcher Heidi Taipale, from the University of Eastern Finland, said in a press release.

“Our study population consisted of persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but it is likely that the risk is similar also in other older persons without Alzheimer’s disease. This is something we will be studying in the future,” she added.

“Antidepressant use was associated with an increased risk of the most severe outcomes, head and brain injuries, in persons with Alzheimer’s disease. Antidepressant use should be carefully considered and the association confirmed in future studies,” researchers concluded.