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Painkillers could treat psychotic dementia symptoms


Simple painkillers could be used to treat agitation, a common symptom of dementia, instead of “chemical cosh” antipsychotic drugs, a study has found.

Researchers discovered that agitation experienced by dementia patients is significantly reduced through taking painkillers.

The symptom is often treated with antipsychotic drugs.

According to experts, every year 150,000 patients in the UK are given antipsychotics unnecessarily. The drugs have a strong sedative effect, can cause dementia symptoms to worsen and even lead to a rise in the risk of stroke and death, they say.

Researchers from Kings College, London, and Norway believed that agitation may be linked with pain, and that dementia patients were incapable of expressing it in any other way.

They conducted a study into their theory with 352 participants in nursing homes in Norway suffering from moderate to severe dementia.

Painkillers were issued to half of patients during every meal, while the other half continued receiving their usual treatments.

It was found that after eight weeks, agitation symptoms among the group who were given painkillers dropped by 17%. The improvement level was higher than would have been expected from antipsychotic treatment.

It was concluded from the study that proper management of patient pain could reduce the number of antipsychotic drug prescriptions.





Readers' comments (4)

  • A slightly clarified info:

    Objective To determine whether a systematic approach to the treatment of pain can reduce agitation in people with moderate to severe dementia living in nursing homes.

    Participants 352 residents with moderate to severe dementia and clinically significant behavioural disturbances

    Intervention Participants in the intervention group received individual daily treatment of pain for eight weeks according to the stepwise protocol, with paracetamol (acetaminophen), morphine, buprenorphine transdermal patch, or pregabaline. The control group received usual treatment and care.

    Results Agitation was significantly reduced in the intervention group

    Conclusion A systematic approach to the management of pain significantly reduced agitation in residents of nursing homes with moderate to severe dementia. Effective management of pain can play an important part in the treatment of agitation and could reduce the number of unnecessary prescriptions for psychotropic drugs in this population.

    So, more about simply reducing pain which settles agitation. Not really about the dementia being treated by painkillers. Misleading title NT

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  • there has just been recent articles in the press about the side effects and dangers of pain killers namely iboprofen and most one is told not exceed the maximum dose or take them for more than a few days without consulting a medical practitioner. they also have dangerous interactions with other medications. so what is it to be?

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  • This piece of research was done with people resident in nursing homes and therefore under medical supervision already. I don't think there was or is any recommendation to be treating independently in community without medical guidance. But you're right about the pro's and con's of any medication.

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  • From Anonymous | 18-Jul-2011 12:42

    Anonymous | 18-Jul-2011 3:04 pm

    there is not always much medical supervision in some nursing homes. the onus is put upon the nurses to monitor and determine the suitability of drugs their patients are on and the doctors often only write the prescriptions when requested with little medical follow up unless nurses insist on it, and often without seeing the patients unless the nurses insist as well.
    I have come across this on several occasions and not just in one isolated case. GPs themselves have told me that they are not interested in 'geriatrics' and some admit that they consider it a waste of their time!

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