Dementia: Why we find it difficult to stay awake in the day and sleep at night?

Study Suggests Tau Tangles, Not Amyloid Plaques, Drive Daytime Napping That Precedes Dementia

Researchers and caregivers have noted that excessive daytime napping can develop long before the memory problems associated with Alzheimer’s disease begin to unfold. Prior studies have considered this excessive daytime napping to be compensation for poor nighttime sleep caused by Alzheimer’s-related disruptions in sleep-promoting brain regions, while others have argued that the sleep problems themselves contribute to the progression of the disease. But now UC San Francisco scientists have provided a striking new biological explanation for this phenomenon, showing instead that Alzheimer’s disease directly attacks brain regions responsible for wakefulness during the day.

two people talk in a lab
Lea Grinberg (right), MD, PhD, the senior study author

The new research demonstrates that these brain regions (including the part of the brain impacted by narcolepsy) are among the first casualties of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease, and therefore that excessive daytime napping – particularly when it occurs in the absence of significant nighttime sleep problems – could serve as an early warning sign of the disease. In addition, by associating this damage with a protein known as tau, the study adds to evidence that tau contributes more directly to the brain degeneration that drives Alzheimer’s symptoms than the more extensively studied amyloid protein.

“Our work shows definitive evidence that the brain areas promoting wakefulness degenerate due to accumulation of tau – not amyloid protein – from the very earliest stages of the disease,” said study senior author Lea T. Grinberg, MD, PhD, an associate professor of neurology and pathology at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center and a member of the Global Brain Health Institute and UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences.

Wakefulness Centers Degenerate in Alzheimer’s Brains

In the new study, published August 12, 2019, in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, lead author Jun Oh, a Grinberg lab research associate, and colleagues precisely measured Alzheimer’s pathology, tau protein levels and neuron numbers in three brain regions involved in promoting wakefuless from 13 deceased Alzheimer’s patients and seven healthy control subjects, which were obtained from the UCSF Neurodegenerative Disease Brain Bank.

Compared to healthy brains, Oh and colleagues found that the brains of Alzheimer’s patients had significant tau buildup in all three wakefulness-promoting brain centers they studied – the locus coeruleus (LC), lateral hypothalamic area (LHA), and tuberomammillary nucleus (TMN) – and that these regions had lost as many as 75 percent of their neurons.

portrait on Jun Oh.
Jun Oh, lead author of the study. 

“It’s remarkable because it’s not just a single brain nucleus that’s degenerating, but the whole wakefulness-promoting network,” Oh said. “Crucially this means that the brain has no way to compensate because all of these functionally related cell types are being destroyed at the same time.”

Oh and colleagues also studied brain samples from seven patients with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and corticobasal disease (CBD), two distinct forms of neurodegenerative dementia caused by tau accumulation. In contrast to the Alzheimer’s disease brains, wakefulness-promoting neurons appeared to be spared in the PSP and CBD brains, despite comparable levels of tau buildup in these tissue samples.

“It seems that the wakefulness-promoting network is particularly vulnerable in Alzheimer’s disease,” Oh said. “Understanding why this is the case is something we need to follow up in future research.”

Studies Point to Role of Tau Protein in Alzheimer’s Symptoms

The new results are in line with an earlier study by Grinberg’s group which showed that people who died with elevated levels of tau protein in their brainstem – corresponding to the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease – had already begun to experience changes in mood, such as anxiety and depression, as well as increased sleep disturbances.

“Our new evidence for tau-linked degeneration of the brain’s wakefulness centers provides a compelling neurobiological explanation for those findings,” Grinberg said. “It suggests we need to be much more focused on understanding the early stages of tau accumulation in these brain areas in our ongoing search for Alzheimer’s treatments.”

These studies add to a growing recognition among some researchers that tau buildup is more closely linked to the actual symptoms of Alzheimer’s than the more widely studied amyloid protein, which has so far failed to yield effective Alzheimer’s therapies.

For instance, another recent study by the Grinberg lab measured tau buildup in the brains of patients who died with different clinical manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease, including variants that involved language impairment or visual problems instead of more typical memory loss. They found that differences in local tau burden in these patients’ brains closely matched their symptoms: patients with language impairments had more tau accumulation in language related brain areas than in memory regions, while patients with visual problems had higher tau levels in visual brain areas.

“This research adds to a growing body of work showing that tau burden is likely a direct driver of cognitive decline,” Grinberg said.

Increased focus on the role of tau in Alzheimer’s suggests that treatments currently in development at UCSF’s Memory and Aging Center and elsewhere that directly tackle tau pathology have the potential to improve sleep and other early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, in addition to holding a key to slowing the progress of the disease overall, the authors say.

Authors: See study online for full list of authors.

Funding: This study was supported by The Rainwater Foundation and grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01AG064314, R01AG060477, P50AG023501, P01AG019724, K24AG053435), the Global Brain Health Institute, and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).

Disclosures: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is exclusively focused on the health sciences and is dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes UCSF Health, which comprises three top-ranked hospitals, as well as affiliations throughout the Bay Area.

Source
August 2019| The Regents of The University of California – Alzheimer’s Disease Destroys Neurons that Keep Us Awake By Nicholas Weiler

Personhood

Reading up on all the news, reports and discussions on the aged care royal commission, it makes me wonder if personhood is forgotten in dementia care. Recognition, respect and trust is not rocket science and that’s just common sense. What’s happened to aged care? Why is it that people living with dementia are now being objectified, disrespected and feared in aged care. How did we go so wrong?

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Chemical restraint has no place in aged care, but poorly designed reforms can easily go wrong

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Chemical restraint occurs more often than we think in Australia’s aged care system.
From shutterstock.com
Juanita Westbury, University of Tasmania

Last month the aged care minister Ken Wyatt announced he would introduce regulations to address the use of “chemical restraint” in residential aged care – a practice where residents are given psychotropic drugs which affect their mental state in order to “control” their behaviour.

Psychotropic medications used as “chemical restraints” are antipsychotics, antidepressants, anti-epileptics and benzodiazepines (tranquilisers).

Wyatt followed this announcement this month with a A$4.2 million funding pledge to better monitor care in nursing homes through mandatory “quality indicators”, and including one covering medication management.

Of course, you would be hard pressed to find a staff member admitting to controlling a resident by giving them a tablet. Instead, most staff would stress that medication was given to calm or comfort them.




Read more:
Physical restraint doesn’t protect patients – there are better alternatives


But our research shows psychotropic use is rife in Australia’s aged care system.

Reforms are desperately needed, but we need to develop the right approach and learn from countries that have tried to regulate this area – most notably the United States and Canada.

What’s the problem with antipsychotic drugs?

Antipsychotic drugs such as risperidone and quetiapine are often used to manage behavioural symptoms of dementia.

But large reviews conclude they don’t work very well. They decrease agitated behaviour in only one in five people with dementia. And there is no evidence they work for other symptoms such as calling out and wandering.

Due to their limited effect – and side effects, including death, stroke and pneumonia – guidelines stress that antipsychotics should only be given to people with dementia when there is severe agitation or aggression associated with a risk of harm, delusions, hallucinations, or pre-existing mental illness.

The guidelines also state antipsychotics should only be given when non-drug strategies such as personalised activities have failed, at the lowest effective dose, and for the shortest period required.




Read more:
Needless treatments: antipsychotic drugs are rarely effective in ‘calming’ dementia patients


The high rates of antipsychotic use in Australian aged care homes indicates the guidelines aren’t being followed.

In our study of more than 12,000 residents across 150 homes, we found 22% were taking antipsychotics every day. More than one in ten were were charted for these drugs on an “as required” basis.

We also found large variations in use between nursing homes, ranging from 7% to 44% of residents. How can some homes operate with such low rates, whereas others have almost half their residents taking antipsychotic medications?

Regulations to reduce chemical restraint

Of all countries, the US has made the most effort to address high rates of antipsychotic use.

After reports in the 1980s highlighting poor nursing home care, Congress passed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act which sets national minimum standards of care, guidelines to assist homes to follow the law, and surveyors to enforce it.

For residents with dementia and behavioural symptoms, the regulations require documentation of the behaviour, a trial of non-drug strategies such as activity programs, and dose reductions after six months.

Prescribing practices vary widely between institutions.
From shutterstock.com

Homes that don’t meet these regulations are subject to a series of sanctions, ranging from financial penalties to closure.

The regulations were initially associated with substantial declines in antipsychotic use. By 1995 only 16% of residents were taking them.

But average rates of use rose to 26% by 2010. And in 2011, a Senate hearing found 83% of claims for antipsychotics in nursing homes were prescribed for unlicensed use.

This led advocates to conclude the regulations and surveyor guidance were ineffective.

Quality indicators to reduce chemical restraint

Another way to reduce antipsychotic use in aged care homes is by mandatory quality indicators, along with public reporting. The US introduced this in 2012. A similar system was instituted in Ontario, Canada, in 2015.

Measures are essential for quality improvement. But they can also lead to unintended consequences and cheating.

In the US, antipsychotic rates for people with dementia has allegedly reduced by 27% since the start of their quality indicator program.

But those diagnosed with schizophrenia were exempt from reporting. Then the percentage of residents listed as having schizophrenia doubled from 5% to nearly 10% of residents within the first few years of the initiative. So 20% of the reduction was probably due to intentional mis-diagnosis rather than an actual decrease in antipsychotic use.




Read more:
What is ‘quality’ in aged care? Here’s what studies (and our readers) say


A recent US study has also shown that the use of alternative sedating medications not subject to reporting, specifically anti-epileptic drugs, has risen substantially as antipsychotic use declined, indicating widespread substitution.

In Ontario, the use of trazadone, a sedating antidepressant, has also markedly increased since its antipsychotic reporting program began.

Reporting issues

In the US, nursing homes self-report indicators. A recent study compared nursing home data with actual prescribing claims, concluding that homes under-reported their antipsychotic prescribing, on average, by 1 percentage point.

Public reporting is often also time-consuming, with some researchers arguing that time spent managing quality indicators may be better spent providing care for residents.

Where to now?

Awareness of a problem is the first step to addressing it, and chemical restraint is a key issue coming to light in the aged care royal commission.

The proposed regulations and new quality indicator will allow homes and regulators to monitor the use of chemical restraint, but more importantly, should be used to assess the impact of training and other strategies to ensure appropriate use of psychotropic medications.

But to meet their full potential, these programs need to be carefully designed and evaluated to ensure that cheating, under-reporting and substitution does not occur like it did in North America.

Juanita Westbury, Senior Lecturer in Dementia Care, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Physical restraint doesn’t protect patients – there are better alternatives

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There are several methods by which elderly people are physically restrained in nursing homes.
From shutterstock.com

Joseph Ibrahim, Monash University

It’s an uncomfortable image to consider: an elderly person – perhaps somebody you know – physically restrained. Maybe an aged care resident deemed likely to fall has been bound to his chair using wrist restraints; or someone with dementia acting aggressively has been confined to her bed by straps and rails. These scenarios remain a reality in Australia.

Despite joining the global trend to promote a “restraint free” model, Australia is one of several high income countries continuing to employ physical restraint.

The Australian government has recently moved to regulate the use of physical and chemical restraints in aged care facilities. This comes ahead of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Certainly this is a step in the right direction – but banning physical restraint is unlikely to remove it from practice. If we want to achieve a restraint free approach we need to educate the sector about viable alternatives, which aren’t always pharmacological.




Read more:
There’s no need to lock older people into nursing homes ‘for their own safety’


The scope of the problem

The rate of physical restraint in Australia is difficult to ascertain. One study across five countries examining the care of residents over one week reported between 6% (Switzerland) and 31% (Canada) of residents had been physically restrained.

These figures suggest a substantial, ingrained issue with multiple contributing factors. Issues might include inadequate staff knowledge and skills, insufficient resources, and difficulty accessing specialist services.

Empirical evidence demonstrates that physical restraints cause premature death as well as other serious physical and psychological harms.

While injuries caused directly by physical restraint could include falls and nerve injury, the impacts go beyond this. A significant consequence of restraint is its immobilising effects which can lead to incontinence, cognitive decline and a general deterioration in a person’s physical condition.

In physically restraining residents, staff are failing to employ other evidence‐based interventions. Behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia can be managed by strategies such as improving sleep, controlling pain, music therapy, orientation therapy, and, if required, one-to-one care.

Preventing falls requires a multi-pronged approach including strengthening, balance training, medication review and co-ordination of care between doctors, nurses and therapists.

Physical restraint breaches a person’s human rights and dehumanises older members of our community.

Restraints don’t work

Our recent review of studies into the practice identified 174 deaths of nursing home residents due to physical restraint. The eight studies reviewed came from the US and Europe between 1986 and 2010.

This research reaffirmed the view that restrained individuals still experience falls, which the restraints often seek to prevent. But perhaps most compelling were the findings that physically restraining patients with dementia increases agitation, worsens behavioural and psychological symptoms, and hastens their cognitive decline.

Care staff need to be better equipped to look after patients without resorting to physical restraint.
From shutterstock.com

We’ve also undertaken a detailed analysis of resident deaths in Australian nursing homes reported to the coroner between 2000 and 2013. This uncovered only five deaths due to physical restraint. All residents had impaired mobility and the physical restraints had been applied to prevent falls. The residents died from neck compression and entrapment caused by the restraints.

Current processes

Most would expect the use of physical restraints would be closely monitored, with any harm reported to a regulatory or professional body. This is not necessarily the case in Australia.

Reporting often lags due to an unclear understanding about what constitutes physical restraint, and perhaps because little is forthcoming in the way of alternatives to address these residents’ care needs.

The only systematic voluntary scrutiny that could apply exists in principle, though not largely in practice, via the National Aged Care Quality Indicator Program. Fewer than 10% of aged care providers around the country participate in the quality indicator program, and the results of these audits are yet to be released publicly.

It’s only when a death occurs that a report to an independent authority – the Coroner’s Court – is made.




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Why legislating doesn’t go far enough

Similar laws introduced in other countries to ban physical restraint haven’t worked. In the US, there was an initial decrease in use of restraint and then a gradual return to previous levels.

Abolishing the use of physical restraints on nursing home residents remains challenging because of the widespread but incorrect perception that physical restraints improve resident safety. Nursing staff report using physical restraints to guarantee residents’ safety; to control resident behaviour while fulfilling other tasks; or to protect themselves and others from perceived harm or risk of liability.

Changing laws does not change attitudes. Education and training is required to dispel the myths and inform that better options than physical restraint already exist. Otherwise staff, family and the general public will continue with a mistaken belief it is safer to restrain a person than allow them to move freely, or that restraint is necessary to protect other residents or staff.

Our team convened an expert panel to develop recommendations for addressing the issue. We considered three of our 15 recommendations to prevent the use of physical restraint among nursing home residents the most important.

The first is establishing and mandating a single, standard, nationwide definition for describing “physical restraint”. A universal definition of what constitutes physical restraint enables consistent reporting and comparability in nursing homes.

Secondly, when there are no viable alternatives to physical restraint, any use should trigger mandatory referral to a specialist aged care team. This team should review the resident’s care plan and identify strategies that eliminate the use of physical restraint. This requires improved access to health professionals with expertise in dementia and mental health when a nursing home calls for help.

Thirdly, nursing home staff competencies should be appropriate to meet the complex needs of residents, particularly those with dementia. This is the long term solution to eradicate the need to apply physical restraint and is achievable with national education and training programs.

The harm from physical restraint is well documented, as are the potential solutions. Changing the legislation is a necessary step, but will not change practice on its own. Addressing as many of the underlying contributing factors as possible should commence alongside the government’s call for tougher regulations.The Conversation

Joseph Ibrahim, Professor, Health Law and Ageing Research Unit, Department of Forensic Medicine, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How our residential aged-care system doesn’t care about older people’s emotional needs

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Most aged-care residents don’t feel like they are loved or belong in their facility.
from shutterstock.com

Lee-Fay Low, University of Sydney

All humans have fundamental needs. These are physiological (food, drink, clothing, sleep), safety (emotional security, physical safety, health), love and belonging (friendships, community), esteem (respect, dignity) and self-actualisation (accomplishment, personal development).

For people living in Australia’s residential aged-care facilities, these needs are often not met.

Most residents do not feel they are loved or belong in the facility. Like aged-care resident Neda Borenstein, whose secret camera footage broadcast on ABC’s Four Corners showed her singing the Australian national anthem in bed while she waited more than three hours to be changed. “I’m just a number,” Neda told her carer when she finally returned to help her up.

Less than one-third of residents we interviewed said they were friends with another resident. This means most don’t have the social support associated with friendships. Most residents said they felt socially isolated, which is associated with poor well-being.

A 2016 study of residents’ lived experiences in an aged-care facility found many felt they had little dignity, autonomy or control. Outside of meal and structured activity times, people with dementia spend most of their time stationary, alone and doing very little or nothing.

One study looking at interactions between residents and their carers showed residents were alone 40% of the time they were observed. When staff were present, they mostly did not engage verbally, emotionally or physically with the resident.

Aged-care facilities can also feel psychologically unsafe to residents.
Residents with dementia may be locked in secure units or physically restrained, using mechanisms such as bedrails or restraining belts.

Residents sometimes don’t get along. They might argue yell, swear, pinch, hit or push each other. We don’t have good data about how often resident-to-resident verbal and physical aggression happens, but it can result in injury and even death.




Read more:
Violence between residents in nursing homes can lead to death and demands our attention


The consequences of unmet needs?

Residents can react negatively when their needs are not met. They become bored, sad, stressed, cranky, anxious, depressed, agitated, angry and violent.

In people with dementia, we used to call these reactions “behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia” (BPSD). But people with dementia have been pointing out these are normal human responses to neglect, not symptoms of dementia. Almost all (90%) aged-care residents display one or more of these negative reactions.

In many facilities, staff “manage” such reactions with the use of sedating antipsychotic medications. But clinical guidelines recommend looking at the reasons people may be reacting that way and addressing those before medication.




Read more:
Needless treatments: antipsychotic drugs are rarely effective in ‘calming’ dementia patients


Half of nursing home residents have symptoms of depression, and a third have symptoms of anxiety. More than half of residents have been found in studies to behave in ways that might suggest they no longer wish to live. This includes refusing food or medication, one-third of residents having suicidal thoughts and a small number of nursing home residents actually taking their own lives.




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Too many Australians living in nursing homes take their own lives


Why does Australian aged care fail to meet fundamental human needs?

We might not be spending enough on aged care to enable providers to meet fundamental human needs. Australia spends about 1% of its GDP on long-term care – less than the OECD average of 1.5%.

Private investment in aged care is growing, as have residential aged care profits, but it’s a difficult industry in which to make money. Insufficient funding translates to insufficient staff and less skilled staff. Our funding system rewards dependency, and there are no funding incentives for providers to improve the psychological well-being of residents, or go beyond that to help them flourish.

Friendships are an important part of healthy ageing.
from shutterstock.com

People looking for a nursing home don’t have any independently provided information by which to compare quality or performance.

The National Quality Indicator Program – a program for measuring care in residential aged-care facilities that began in 2016 – was meant to provide information for people trying to compare facilities on clinical indicators of care quality.

But participation in the program is voluntary for providers. Neither quality of life nor emotional well-being indicators are included in the suite of quality indicators (even though one has been trialled and found to be suitable). We also don’t know if or when the data might be published.

What is needed?

We need a fundamental shift in community, government, service provider, staff and regulatory expectations of what residential aged care does. Our model of aged care is mainly about clinical care, while neglecting emotional care.

For instance, friendships are a unique social interaction that facilitate healthy ageing, but many residents told us that the social opportunities in their nursing home did not align with their expectations of friendship.




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Loneliness is a health issue, and needs targeted solutions


We need our model of care to be a model of a home. In a home everyone contributes, has a say in what happens in the home (such as the menu, interior design, routine and functions), is able to invite their friends to their home for a meal, and can leave during the day and come back at night. A home is a safe place, where people are loved and nurtured, and where they can be active and fulfilled.The Conversation

Lee-Fay Low, Associate Professor in Ageing and Health, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Needless treatments: antipsychotic drugs are rarely effective in ‘calming’ dementia patients

 

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People with dementia often experience a range of psychological symptoms and behaviour changes.
from shutterstock.com

Juanita Westbury, University of Tasmania and Carmelle Peisah, University of Sydney

From time to time, we hear or read about medical procedures or treatments that can be ineffective and needlessly drive up the nation’s health-care costs. This occasional series explores such procedures individually and explains why they could cause more harm than good in particular circumstances.


Antipsychotic medications were initially developed to treat schizophrenia, a mental health condition characterised by psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. Because of their sedative effects, antipsychotic medications (such as risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine and haloperidol) are often used to “manage” people with dementia.

People with dementia often experience a range of psychological symptoms and behaviour changes. These can include anxiety, sleep disturbance, pacing, wandering, crying out, agitation, delusions and hallucinations.

These are referred to as “behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia” (BPSD) though the term “responsive behaviours” has also been adopted to help explain their cause, signalling that there are often reasons behind the behaviours. Understanding and treating these reasons is the best way to approach these behaviours.




Read more:
Chemical restraint in aged-care homes linked to early death



Antipsychotic medications are known as psychotropic medications. These are drugs that alter a person’s mental state and include antipsychotics, antidepressants, benzodiazepines and anticonvulsants, which are also used to sedate patients in nursing homes. These come with significant and serious risks. Clinical guidelines recommend such medications be used only as a last resort.

Psychotropic medicines should only be considered when non-pharmacological interventions have failed and the patient has symptoms that are distressing for them, their family or fellow residents.

Responsive behaviours

Dementia is not just a single disease. It’s a term describing symptoms associated with more than 70 separate diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia. The condition affects many brain functions including language, personality and reasoning skills, not just memory, which is usually associated with the condition.




Read more:
What causes Alzheimer’s disease? What we know, don’t know and suspect


Responsive behaviours in people with dementia vary according to the type and severity of their disease. They also fluctuate over time. A Canadian study of 146 aged care residents assessed these behaviours monthly for six months, revealing a wide variation in their duration and frequency. Results showed most responsive behaviours lasted for less than three months with usual care.

Dementia affects many brain functions including langugage, personality and reasoning skills.
from shutterstock.com

Many responsive behaviours in people with dementia are thought to result from, or be worsened by, unmet needs (pain, hunger), the environment (over- or under-stimulation), social needs (loneliness or need for intimacy) and approaches of carers or others. Sometimes these behaviours are caused by an acute medical illness on top of the dementia, such as an infection. Other times the behaviours arise from the disease process of dementia itself.

Each cause requires different treatment. For example, an infection shouldn’t be missed, nor should pain, each requiring different strategies. So, the first step for those around the person, both health care professionals and family carers, is to work out why they are behaving a certain way rather than reaching for a script pad.

Psychotropic use in aged care

Psychotropic medications are often over-used. The main evidence for excessive use of psychotropics such as antipsychotics in dementia in Australia has been collected in aged care homes. A recent study, that one of the authors was involved in, examined antipsychotic use in 139 homes across all six states and the ACT during 2014-2015. It assessed the use of antipsychotics in more than 11,500 residents.

We found that 22% of residents were taking an antipsychotic medication every day. And concerningly, more than 10% of residents were charted for a “when required” antipsychotic. This means they could be given an antipsychotic dose when a behaviour occurred that their carer decided was necessary to medicate, or a top-up dose in addition to their regular dose.




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Excessive use of antipsychotics in older people does not appear to be confined to the residential aged care sector. A 2013 district nursing study of 221 people with dementia living in their own homes found that 18% were prescribed these medications.

Many trials have examined the effectiveness of antipsychotics to treat agitation in people with dementia. These studies show they only offer benefit to about 20% of people with these symptoms and appear to offer no benefit for other responsive behaviours such as wandering, crying out or anxiety.

Antipsychotics don’t benefit symptoms such as wandering, crying out or anxiety.
from shutterstock.com

But what’s worse is that use is associated with severe adverse effects including stroke, early death, infections, Parkinson’s-like movement disturbances, falls and over-sedation.

There are times when behaviours can be severe and disabling and impact the quality of life for the person with dementia. Sometimes the behaviours may put the person or others at risk. In these cases, careful prescribing is recommended. When needed for responsive behaviours, antipsychotics should be taken at the lowest effective dose for a maximum of three-months.

If people are in pain, it is absolutely essential that this is treated. One study showed using increasingly strong analgesia was as effective in treating agitation in dementia as antipsychotics.

Advice for family members

Family members need to understand and be aware of these symptoms and behaviours, their treatment and alternatives and be part of finding out why they are happening as well as the solution.

This includes being aware that legally, psychotropics must be prescribed with consent, either from the person themselves or from their substitute decision-maker. Families should not just be finding out about use of medications when they receive the pharmacy bill.

Skilled advice for nursing homes is available across Australia, 24-hours a day from the Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service and the Severe Behaviour Response Teams. They support aged-care providers in improving care for people with dementia and related behaviours.

Families need to make sure that the facility their loved one resides is in is aware of and uses this service, so they don’t have to resort to using drugs first. The 24-hour helpline number is 1800 699 799.


For more information about your rights, visit empoweredproject.org.auThe Conversation

Juanita Westbury, Senior Lecturer in Dementia Care, University of Tasmania and Carmelle Peisah, Clinical Associate Professor, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.