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Dementia: Pain medication with a significantly higher risk of side effects


Do painkillers trigger serious side effects in people with dementia?

Taking pain relievers can have dangerous consequences in people with dementia. Researchers found that pain relievers routinely administered to dementia patients tripled the likelihood of harmful side effects and personality changes.

A team of scientists from the University of Exeter, King’s College London and the University of Bergen recently found that dementia patients are at significantly greater risk of adverse health effects if they take certain pain relievers. The doctors published the results of their study at this year's Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2018 in Chicago.

More than half of the subjects developed side effects

More than half of the study participants had harmful side effects from taking pain relievers. Many of the subjects were confused and sedated by the medication, the experts explain.

Pain relievers are widely used in nursing homes

Many residents of nursing homes depend on the use of painkillers for health reasons. Up to 40 percent of dementia patients living in nursing homes receive so-called opioids as pain relievers, such as the drug buprenorphine. However, the scientists have now found that the use of such pain relievers does more harm than good to patients.

Pain killers harm people with dementia

The use of these pain relievers in people with dementia should be reviewed urgently. At the moment, taking certain painkillers hurts many people, although the medication is actually taken to relieve their pain, explains study author Clive Ballard from the University of Exeter Medical School.

Study had 162 subjects with dementia

For the current study, the doctors examined 162 patients who suffered from dementia. Half of these participants received pain medication, the other half only received a placebo. The researchers were then able to determine in their evaluation that subjects taking opioid painkillers increasingly experienced various side effects. The most common side effects include personality changes and confusion. For comparison, only 13.3 percent of the control group showed similar effects. In response to the results, an urgent review of the use of such drugs is required to prevent unnecessary damage and death, study author Ballard emphasized in a press release.

Pain is often underdiagnosed

Around half of the people with dementia who live in nursing homes have clinically significant pain, the experts suspect. Previous research had found that people with dementia are often under-diagnosed and poorly managed, which affects their quality of life.

More research is needed

Pain is a symptom that can cause great distress to those affected, and it is very important that people with dementia are helped and treated properly, the doctors say. More research is urgently needed in this area. The right medication must be given to the affected person in the right dosage, the experts demand. (As)

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