Memories are treasured by everyone, they are a mental history of life experience that can be recalled at random and reminisced about. For the elderly, they are of value and can be passed on to grandchildren. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age due to generalized degeneration of the brain. It is the most common cause of premature senility. The disease destroys memory and also has physical repercussions.
While patients suffering from AD manifest signs of depression, aggression, agitation or tend to hallucinate, approximately 20-42 percent of patients exhibit signs of depression before they are diagnosed with the disorder. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease worsen over time, although the rate at which the disease progresses varies. On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis but can live as long as 20 years depending on other factors.
Are Alzheimer’s disease patients prescribed an increasing number of antidepressants?
While AD patients are prescribed antidepressants to alleviate their depression symptoms, a study titled “Incidence of antidepressant use in community-dwelling persons with and without Alzheimer’s disease: 13-year follow-up” revealed that antidepressants were prescribed at a greater rate than for the general population. For study purposes, the scientists examined and compared details of prescription rates for 62,104 AD patients living in communities with those not diagnosed with AD but belonging to the same age and gender group. By making use of details obtained from the Finnish register-based cohort study called the Medication Use and Alzheimer’s Disease (MEDALZ), the scientists assessed information over a period, i.e., from a period of nine years prior to detection of the disorder to four years after diagnosis of the disorder. The researchers also looked at prescription rates of specified groups of antidepressants.
Detailed analysis of the study revealed that AD patients who account for nearly 70 percent of dementia cases in its most common form, had received twice as many antidepressants during the initial phases than those without the disorder during the study period. The rate was observed to be highest in the six months following AD diagnosis when it increased to more than five times the control group. Higher rates of antidepressant use were found in the AD group even nine years before diagnosis.
Risks involved in overuse of antidepressants in AD patients
The findings of the study came as a surprise as co-occurring mental illnesses are found to be lower among those afflicted with AD as compared to those without AD. Detailed analysis of the study revealed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) as the most common form of medications followed by mirtazapine. The observations in this study are in sync with prior studies confirming approximately 22 to 47 percent of community-dwelling dementia patients being prescribed antidepressants three times more than patients without dementia symptoms. Though the observations indicate a high rate of antidepressant use by AD patients, it does not necessarily indicate higher efficacy of the medications.
Road to recovery
The findings of the study are important as over prescription of antidepressants to patients with AD can put them at risk. The authors of the study suggested, “Frequent monitoring of treatment and balancing between benefits and risks associated with antidepressant use should be encouraged in this frail population. Additionally, clinicians should carefully monitor older patients with depressive symptoms to potentially identify cognitive decline as early as possible.”
If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental illness, including depression or anxiety, contact Sovereign Health to learn about our various mental health treatment centers in the U.S. Call our 24/7 helpline number 866-973-7164 or chat online for information about mental health facilities in your area.