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.
- Husebo BS, et al. Efficacy of treating pain to reduce behavioural disturbances in residents of nursing homes with dementia: cluster randomised clinical trial. BMJ 2011; Advance online publication.