The link between antidepressants and Alzheimer’s

The link between antidepressants and Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia across the United States. As per the 2016 report by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, nearly 5.4 million Americans of all ages are afflicted with AD. However, the problem is more prevalent in the aging population as its first symptoms appear at the age of 65 or beyond. The associated risks of the disease also rise with age.

Among the top 10 causes of death in America, Alzheimer’s is the only one that cannot be prevented or cured. Stressing on the rising number of deaths caused by the disease, Matthew Baumgart, senior director of public policy at the Alzheimer’s Association, said, “Alzheimer’s is having a rapidly growing impact on American society.” Although, at present, there is no medication that can completely cure AD, certain medications can be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms or reduce their progression.

A recent study by the University of Eastern Finland, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in February 2016, suggested that the prescription of antidepressants for those suffering from Alzheimer’s is higher as compared to the general population.

AD patients given two times more antidepressants

In the study, titled “Incidence of antidepressant use in community-dwelling persons with and without Alzheimer’s disease: 13-year follow-up,” the researchers aimed to analyze the pervasiveness of the use of antidepressants in those with or without AD, from nine years prior to the diagnosis of AD to four years after the diagnosis of the disease.

The nationwide Medication use and Alzheimer’s disease (MEDALZ) study involved 62,104 individuals who suffered from AD during 2005-2011 and the control group with the same number of persons, with matching age and gender, but without the disorder.

It was observed that the patients with AD were initially prescribed antidepressants that were two times more than those prescribed to the participants without AD. The prescription rate was also found to be five times that of the comparison group during the six months after the diagnosis of AD.

The use of antidepressants among the AD group was higher even after nine years of the diagnosis of the disease. However, the researchers could not explain the phenomenon in case of hospital-treated psychiatric disorders. Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) were the most widely prescribed medications followed by mirtazapine.

Though it is a well-known fact that numerous AD patients display behavioral and mental symptoms of dementia, such as depressive disorder, aggressive behavior, agitation and delusions, the high use of antidepressants in such patients is particularly concerning as the efficiency of these medications is still questionable. Moreover, the use of these medications is

also associated with some untoward consequences, such as, increased likelihood for falls and fractures, among others.

Thus it is important to keep a check on prescribing antidepressants indiscriminately to AD patients, which may pose a serious threat to their health. Based on the observations made during the course of the study and the importance it holds in treating patients suffering from AD, the authors said, “Frequent monitoring of treatment and balancing between benefits and risks associated with antidepressant use should be encouraged in this frail population.”

The extensiveness of AD among the American population makes it necessary for clinicians to keep a close watch on older patients with depressive symptoms to recognize the symptoms of the disease, even before they start showing various abnormalities.

Path to recovery

The onset of AD can be distressing to patients as well as their caregivers as its development is linked to diminishing quality of life due to impairments in cognitive abilities. If you or your loved one is suffering from AD, or any other mental disorder, you may contact the California Mental Health Helpline for further information about various mental health facilities in California. You may call at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online for more information on mental health rehabilitation centers in California.

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