Tuesday, September 05, 2017 by Rhonda Johansson
A nationwide cohort study conducted in Finland found that antidepressants increased the risk of head and traumatic brain injuries among patients with Alzheimer’s disease. While antidepressants have been linked to an increased risk of falling, no study thus far researched a possible connection between the drug and brain injuries in community-dwelling patients with Alzheimer’s. Researchers of the study, while not exactly surprised by their results, do say that this gives cause for some level of concern as Alzheimer’s patients are regularly given antidepressants.
One of the more common side-effects of antidepressants is that they increases the risk of falling. Usually doctors tell patients that the risk is only evident in the first 30 days of use, as the body gets used to it. Eventually, the risk becomes negligible. However, the study found that the neural processes involved with balance are still affected by antidepressants for up to two years. They released their results in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy with the cautionary conclusion that caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients should be very vigilant in keeping tabs on their wards.
Senior researcher Heidi Taipale from the University of Eastern Finland said that antidepressants are regularly given to Alzheimer’s patients because they are believed to be a safer alternative to benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medicines). Nevertheless, this new research may suggest that antidepressants should not be prescribed as frequently.
Researchers pooled data from the nationwide register-based MEDALZ study, which took note of all community-dwelling Alzheimer’s patients in Finland during 2005-2011. Of the gathered 21,820 people, 10,910 were antidepressant users.
Taipale said that while their study focused on people with Alzheimer’s, their results could be applicable to the elderly population. “This is something we will be studying in the future,” she said.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is estimated that there are around 5.5 million Americans who suffer from the disease. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and kills more than breast and prostate cancer combined. Since 2000, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased by 89 percent, a number that is projected to grow as changes in diet and lifestyle make people more susceptible to neural damage.
Patients with Alzheimer’s typically become dependent on other drugs to manage their symptoms. One of the most popularly prescribed medications is antidepressants. Unfortunately, the release of these drugs has become slightly unregulated. Medical doctors tend to prescribe the medicine without first inferring if the patient truly needs it. In another Finnish cohort study, it was found that antidepressant use among Alzheimer’s patients was 3.5 times more frequent compared to those without an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Antidepressants are also prescribed along with antipsychotics. However, the combination treatment has been associated with an increased risk of cerebrovascular effects along with death.
While doctors have been told to lessen the prescription of antipsychotics, no such guidelines are in place for antidepressants. (Related: STUDY: Antidepressants linked to higher rates of suicide and self-harm.)
It must be noted that even without any form of medicine, Alzheimer’s patients are already at an enhanced risk of falling down. This can be attributed to the degeneration of brain cells and age, as most people with Alzheimer’s are elderly.