Dementia patients are nearly 20% more likely to be prescribed ‘inappropriate medications’

  • Use of inappropriate medications is 17% higher in dementia patients
  • Treatments may be for insomnia, pain, depression or acid reflux
  • Drugs raise the risk of sedation and fractures, and therefore falls and fractures
  • May be prescribed due to a lack of guidelines or insufficient time with doctors
  • Approximately 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia

Dementia patients are nearly 20 per cent more likely to be given unnecessary prescriptions for ailments like acid reflux, new research suggests.

Lead author Dr Danijela Gnjidic, from the University of Sydney, said: ‘Our study found that following a diagnosis of dementia in older people, the use of potentially inappropriate medications increased by 17 per cent’.

Such inappropriate treatments may also be for insomnia, pain or depression, the study, released today, found. 

Dr Gnjidic said: ‘A number of reasons may account for this, including difficulties with comprehension and communication.’

The researchers claim taking unnecessary drugs can increase dementia patients’ risk of sedation and drowsiness, which may result in them suffering falls, fractures and hospitalisations.  

Around 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia. It affects approximately 850,000 in the UK.  

Dementia patients are nearly 20% more likely to take ‘inappropriate medications’ (stock)


Aerobic exercise such as walking and running may halt dementia by preventing the brain from shrinking, research suggested in November 2017.

Being active several times a week maintains the size of the region of the brain associated with memory, a study found.

Known as the hippocampus, this region is often one of the first to deteriorate in Alzheimer’s patients.

Lead author Joseph Firth from the Western Sydney University, said: ‘When you exercise you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain.

‘In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance programme for the brain.’

The scientists, from the universities of Western Sydney and Manchester, analysed 14 studies with a total of 737 participants.

The participants were aged between 24 and 76, with an average age of 66.

They were made up of healthy individuals, Alzheimer’s patients and people with mental health problems, such as depression and schizophrenia.

Scans of the participants’ brains were investigated before and after completing exercise, such as walking or treadmill running.

The exercise programmes lasted between three months and two years, with participants completing two to five sessions a week.  

Increases the risk of ‘falls, fractures and hospitalisation’ 

Dr Gnjidic said: ‘Our study found that following a diagnosis of dementia in older people, medication use increased by 11 per cent in a year and the use of potentially inappropriate medications increased by 17 per cent.’ 

He claims such medications are generally only intended for short-term use, yet many dementia patients are given them on an ongoing basis.

Speaking of why this occurs, he added: ‘A number of reasons may account for this, including inadequate guidelines, lack of time during physician patient encounters, diminished decision-making capacity, difficulties with comprehension and communication, and difficulties in establishing goals of care.

‘These findings are of major concern and highlight the importance of weighing up the harms and benefits of taking potentially unnecessary medications as they may lead to increased risk of side effects such as sedation or drowsiness, and adverse drug events such as falls, fractures and hospitalisation.’

Dr Gnjidic added doctors and pharmacists should communicate closely with dementia patients and their caregivers to help them make informed decisions regarding the best medicines to prescribe that minimise their risk of side effects. 

He said: ‘De-prescribing unnecessary medications may improve an individual’s quality of life and can reduce unnecessary healthcare costs.’

The findings were published in the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. 

Epilepsy drugs increase the risk of dementia by up to 60% 

This comes after research released earlier this month suggested epilepsy medications increase people’s risk of dementia by up to 60 per cent.

Even occasional anti-epilepsy drug (AEDs) use, which are also often prescribed for bipolar and anxiety disorders, significantly raises people’s risk of a decline in their memories or thinking skills, a study found.

AEDs are thought to increase patients’ risk of dementia by altering communication between chemical messengers, which may accelerate cognitive decline, according to the researchers.

The risk is highest among AEDs such as sodium valproate, which controls electrical functions in the brain to prevent life-threatening seizures, with Epilim typically being a go-to brand in the UK and Ireland.

Study author Dr Heidi Taipale, from the University of Eastern Finland, said: ‘More research should be conducted into the long-term cognitive effects of these drugs, especially among older people.’

Sodium valproate previously came under fire when MailOnline reported three mothers blame the drug for leaving their children with autism, learning difficulties and incontinence after doctors failed to warn them of its risks during pregnancy.