Commonly prescribed medications linked to rise in harmful side effects in dementia

News Release
July 2018 | United Kingdom – Commonly prescribed medications linked to rise in harmful side effects in dementia

Medications which are commonly prescribed to people with dementia have been linked to an increase in harmful side-effects, research involving the University of Exeter has concluded.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The research, presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) examined the impact of opioid-based painkillers or a class of sleep medication known as Z drugs (zolpidem, zopiclone and zaleplon). They are prescribed to an estimated 200,000 with dementia living in care homes across the UK in total.

In the opioid painkiller research, a team from the University of Exeter, King’s College London and the University of Bergen highlight a tripling in harmful side effects related to the use buprenorphine in people with dementia, compared to those on a placebo. Researchers also identified a mechanism that may be causing the problem.

In a randomized controlled trial of 162 Norwegian care home residents, the team found a significant rise in side effect such as personality changes, confusion and sedation, which can seriously impact people’s lives in dementia. The trial team, led by the University of Bergen, studied 162 people from 47 Norwegian care homes who had advanced dementia and significant depression. In those who were assigned buprenorphine as part of their treatment pathway, harmful side-effects more than tripled. The researchers also found that those taking buprenorphine were significantly less active during the day.

In the Z-drugs research, the team compared data for 2,952 people with dementia who were newly prescribed the medication with data for 1,651 who were not – in order to evaluate the benefits and harms of the medicines. They found that people who take Z-drugs are more likely to fracture a bone than those who do not. Bone fractures are related in turn to an increased risk of death in people with dementia.

Researchers are now calling for studies to examine alternative non-drug approaches to treating pain and insomnia, and appropriate dosing of painkillers such as buprenorphine for people with dementia. Clive Ballard, Professor of Age-Related Diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Research into antipsychotics highlighted that they increased harmful side effects and death rates in people with dementia. This compelling evidence base helped persuade everyone involved in the field to take action, from policy makers to clinicians, reducing prescribing by 50 per cent. We now urgently need a similar concerted approach to opioid-based painkillers and Z-drugs, to protect frail elderly people with dementia from fractures and increased risk of death.”

Importantly, research led by Professor Ballard’s team and also presented at the conference also gives insight into the mechanism of why people with dementia are more susceptible to opioid-based painkillers, suggesting they over-produce the body’s natural opioids.

The study treating arthritis in Alzheimer’s mice found increased sensitivity to the opioid-based painkiller morphine in mice with Alzheimer’s disease compared to those without. Those with Alzheimer’s disease responded to a much lower dose to ease pain, and experienced more adverse effects when the dose was increased to a normal level. Looking into this further the study found that the Alzheimer’s mice produced more of the body’s natural endogenous opioids such as endorphins. The study, presented as a poster at AAIC, also concludes that dosing of opioid-based painkillers urgently needs to be reviewed in people with dementia to enable safe and effective treatment of pain, and prevent unnecessary harm and deaths.

Posters presented at conference have not yet been through the journal peer review process.

Watch carers talk about their experience of the WHELD training. To find out more about our world-leading dementia research, follow #ExeterDementia and @Clive_Ballard on Twitter, or visit the Exeter Dementia website.

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Oversedation in Nursing Homes

Source: Human Rights Watch
Published: 5th Feb 2018

The human rights watch has produced a report on the use of sedation in nursing homes. The report titled “they want docile” highlights the plight of people with dementia being chemically restraint through overmedication of antipsychotic drugs.

 

Read the full report here https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/02/05/they-want-docile/how-nursing-homes-united-states-overmedicate-people-dementia 

Too many times I’m given too many pills…. [Until they wear off], I can’t even talk. I have a thick tongue when they do that. I ask them not to [give me the antipsychotic drugs]. When I say that, they threaten to remove me from the [nursing] home. They get me so I can’t think. I don’t want anything to make me change the person I am.
—Walter L., an 81-year-old man given antipsychotic drugs in a Texas nursing facility, December 2016.

It used to be like a death prison here. We cut our antipsychotics in half in six months. Half our residents were on antipsychotics. Only 10 percent of our residents have a mental illness.
—A director of nursing at a facility in Kansas that succeeded in reducing its rate of antipsychotic drug use, January 2017.

Why a drug treatment for dementia has eluded us

 

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Have our hopes of a drug treatment for dementia been dashed by drug company Pfizer giving up on research efforts?
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Jürgen Götz, The University of Queensland

Finding a cure for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s is challenging. They’re difficult to diagnose, and drugs struggle to get into the brain as the brain’s blood supply is largely separate to the rest of the body. Not surprisingly, several companies have left this territory in recent years. This week, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced it will stop research into developing drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, after costly failed attempts over the past decade.

In recent years some clinical trials involving potential dementia drugs have had disappointing setbacks. In 2012, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson halted development of the antibody drug bapineuzumab, after it failed in late-stage trials to treat patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.

Despite this week’s announcement, Pfizer’s support of the UK’s Dementia Discovery Fund, an initiative involving the government, major pharmaceutical companies, and Alzheimer’s Research UK, may be where their money can make the most impact in this space. The fund aims to boost dementia research investment by financing early-stage drug development projects. And other pharma companies, such as Eli Lilly, Biogen and Novartis have continued to pursue dementia drug development with modest but promising success to date.

So what makes dementia such a difficult condition to treat with drugs, and is progress being made towards a treatment?


Read more: Alzheimer’s breakthrough? Have we nearly cured dementia? Not just yet…


Why dementia is so hard to treat

Despite the vast number of people affected globally, with an estimated 46.8 million people currently living with dementia, there is currently no cure. While current treatments manage symptoms (the latest drug to gain FDA approval was memantine, in 2003) they offer no prospect of recovery.

Part of the difficulty in finding treatments for dementia stems from the fact it’s not a single disease, but a complex health problem with more than 50 underlying causes. Dementia can be better thought of as an umbrella term describing a range of conditions that cause parts of the brain to deteriorate progressively.


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


Most drug treatments currently in development have targeted the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, which accounts for about 60 to 70% of all cases.

Finding a successful treatment for Alzheimer’s faces two major hurdles: the first being we still don’t know enough about the disease’s underlying biology. For example, we don’t know what exactly regulates the toxic build-up of amyloid-β plaques and tau tangles in the brain that are found in Alzheimer’s patients, which specific types of these are toxic, or why the disease progresses at different rates in different people.

It doesn’t help that symptoms of Alzheimer’s develop gradually and slowly and a diagnosis might only be made years after the brain has started to undergo neurodegenerative changes. To boot, it’s not uncommon for Alzheimer’s to be present as well as other forms of dementia.

The second major hurdle to finding a treatment is that drugs need to first cross the blood-brain barrier. The blood–brain barrier provides a defence against disease-causing pathogens and toxins that may be present in our blood, and by design exists to keep out foreign substances from the brain. The downside is that it also keeps the vast majority of potential drug treatments from reaching the brain.


Read more – Explainer: what is the blood-brain barrier and how can we overcome it?


The brain has a blood barrier that protects it from pathogens that invade the rest of our body, which also means drugs can’t get in there.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Promising steps in the right direction

Currently available medications such as those which block the actions of an enzyme that destroys an important chemical messenger in the brain for memory (acetylcholinesterase inhibitors) or blocks the toxic effects of another messenger, glutamate (memantine) temporarily manage symptoms. But new treatments are focused on slowing or reversing the disease process itself, by targeting the underlying biology.

One approach, called immunotherapy, involves creating antibodies that bind to abnormal developments in the brain (such as amyloid-β or tau), and mark them for destruction by a range of mechanisms. Immunotherapy is experiencing a surge of interest and a number of clinical trials – targeting both amyloid-β and tau – are currently underway.

Aducanumab, an antibody targeting amyloid-β, has shown promise in clinical trials and phase 3 trials are currently ongoing, as are several tau-based strategies. If any are successful, we would have a vaccine for Alzheimer’s.


Read more – How Australians Die: cause #3 – dementia (Alzheimer’s)


It’s estimated only 0.1% of antibodies circulating in the bloodstream enter the brain – this also includes the therapeutic antibodies currently used in clinical trials. An approach my team is taking is to use ultrasound to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier, which increases the uptake of Alzheimer’s drugs or antibody fragments.

We’ve had success in mice, finding ultrasound can clear toxic tau protein clumps, and that combining ultrasound with an antibody fragment treatment is more effective than either treatment alone in removing tau and reducing Alzheimer’s symptoms. The next challenge will be translating this success into human clinical trials.

The task of dementia drug development is no easy feat, and requires collaboration across government, industry and academia. In Australia, the National Dementia Network serves this purpose well. It’s only through perseverance and continued investment in research that we’ll one day have a treatment for dementia.


The ConversationWith thanks to Queensland Brain Institute Science Writer Donna Lu.

Jürgen Götz, Director, Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Expert highlights dangers of over-prescribing psychotropic dementia medication – The Japan Times

Saw this article below this morning and I thought it’s a very important article to highlight the dangers of over-prescribing psychotropic medication for people with dementia. Some of the risk factors include:

  • falls
  • bone fractures
  • suffer impaired consciousness

It was recommended in the article that non-pharmaceutical options should be the first intervention before the introduction of drugs. It was also recommended that the low doses of the drugs should be prescribed in the initial stages of treatment for BPSD.


 

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As a massive wave of Japanese enter their twilight years, an expert is calling for prudent use of psychotropic drugs to treat dementia patients, some of whom have suffered ill health due to over-prescription.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry released guidelines on how to prescribe such drugs for dementia patients in 2013 to avoid casual prescription by doctors. The Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology is also training doctors on the appropriate application of the drugs…

Click here to read the full article: Expert highlights dangers of over-prescribing psychotropic dementia medication | The Japan Times