Common painkillers have earlier been linked to increased risk for heart disease. Findings of a new study now reveal that these medications may also triple the harmful side effects of dementia.
Increased Risk For Damaging Effects Of Dementia
In a study presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2018 in Chicago, researchers examined 162 people with dementia and depression, and the medicines prescribed to them.
The researchers found that those who received the painkiller buprenorphine faced three times greater risk for side effects compared with those who received acetaminophen or a placebo. The side effects, which include confusion, sedation, and personality changes can have serious impacts in the lives of people with dementia, a condition marked by memory loss and other cognitive conditions that can interfere with life.
The researchers also observed that patients who received buprenorphine were significantly less active compared with their counterparts who were not prescribed this medication.
Buprenorphine is an opioid-based painkiller prescribed to up to 15 percent of dementia patients in countries where this drug is available. It is available in several forms, including as a patch that can conveniently deliver the drug through the skin.
It is thought that the painkiller results in fewer side effects compared with morphine. It also has an added advantage since it can be given to people who have difficulty swallowing.
The findings of the new research though should caution doctors about the use and dosage of the drug commonly prescribed to patients.
"At the moment we're harming people when we're trying to ease their pain," said Clive Ballard, from the University of Exeter Medical School. "We urgently need more research in this area, and we must get this dosing right. We need to establish the best treatment pathway and examine appropriate dosing for people with dementia."
Alternative Approaches To Treating Pain In People With Dementia
The researchers now call for studies to look at alternative non-drug approaches that can be used to treat pain and other conditions, as well as for the appropriate dosing of painkillers in people with dementia.
"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," Ballard said.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, Nearly 6 million Americans live with Alzheimer's. By the year 2015, this number is projected to increase to nearly 14 million.