Psychotropic Drug Use Common in Alzheimer's Disease

Approximately 56% of patients age 90 and older with Alzheimer’s disease used psychotropic drugs.

The use of psychotropic drugs among patients age 90 and older who have Alzheimer’s disease is more common compared with patients diagnosed at a younger age, a recent study found.

These patients are also 5 times more likely to use antipsychotics, and 1.5 times more likely to use antidepressants than patients the same age without the disease. In the study, published by Age and Ageing, researchers studied drug use among patients who had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease within the last 6 months.

It included 67,215 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease between 2005 and 2011, as well as patients the same age, gender, and geographic location who were included in the comparison group. The researchers discovered that 56% of patients 90 years or older who have Alzheimer’s disease use psychotropic drugs, and only 48% of younger patients with the disease took the drugs.

Interestingly, only 38% of patients 90 years and older who did not have Alzheimer’s disease took the drugs. Despite the increased use of psychotropic drugs, only 63% of patients 90 years and older with Alzheimer’s disease used antidementia drugs; however, approximately 72% of younger patients with the disease were taking antidementia drugs.

The study considered antipsychotics, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and other drugs used for anxiety and insomnia to be psychotropic drugs. These drugs may present harm for older patients, and are not generally recommended for this population.

The FDA even recently warned about the co-use of opioids and benzodiazepines. Both drugs depress the central nervous system and can lead to serious adverse effects, such as extreme sleepiness, respiratory depression, coma, and death, if taken together.

Certain elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease may be taking an opioid for pain management, which could further increase their risk of adverse events if their physician chooses to prescribe certain psychotropic drugs.

Frequent use of these drugs in this population is concerning, and the necessity and safety of the drugs should be monitored, the study concluded.