Antidepressants, Alzheimer’s and Brain Injuries: making bad worse

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What we knew:lights-1088141__340

  • Use of antidepressants with Alzheimer’s patients increases the risk for falls and hip fractures
  • There is a protein found in the brain cells of persons with dementia and brain injuries that causes the Axon in the cell (electronic message transmitter) to swell and shut down. This protein is absent from normal cells. Elimination of the protein can cause the axon to start functioning again. (References are in previous blog.)

What the University of Eastern Finland has added to what we know:

  • Use of antidepressants with Alzheimer’s patients results in an increased incidence of traumatic brain injuries among these patients

The mechanism for the injury is probably falling. With slower mental processing and thus slower reflexes, these patients are less able to protect themselves when falling. That means a higher rate of concussions.

This ties back to another previous post on this blog — “deprescribing”. Drugs may have a value in one stage of a person’s life and be counterproductive at another stage. Doctors know how to prescribe drugs, but there are few protocols (apart for drug interactions) regarding when to stop taking a drug.  There is a group in Canada developing guidelines for deprescription, and while NIH has published articles on the topic, I’m not aware of any similar projects to develop guidelines in the US. Some US physicians appear to be doing this on an ad hoc basis.

I suspect deprescription is not a popular topic among pharmaceutical executives, but it needs to be addressed. Continuation of unnecessary medication is just one of many factors that bloats medical costs in the US — and why spending level no longer indicates quality of care. Unnecessary medication poses risks to some patients.


Sources:

  1. Heidi Taipale, Marjaana Koponen, Antti Tanskanen, Piia Lavikainen, Reijo Sund, Jari Tiihonen, Sirpa Hartikainen, Anna-Maija Tolppanen. Risk of head and traumatic brain injuries associated with antidepressant use among community-dwelling persons with Alzheimer’s disease: a nationwide matched cohort study. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, 2017; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s13195-017-0285-3
  2. University of Eastern Finland. “Antidepressant use increases risk of head injuries among persons with Alzheimer’s disease.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 August 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170809073627.htm>.
  3. Gurusamy Sivagnanam, “Deprescription: The prescription metabolism,”
    J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2016 Jul-Sep; 7(3): 133–137.
    doi:  10.4103/0976-500X.189680
  4. http://deprescribing.org/
  5. http://www.drjohnm.org/2014/10/to-deprescribe-adding-a-new-verb-to-the-language-of-doctoring/
  6. Joaquín Hortal Carmon, IvánAguilar Cruz, FranciscoParrilla Ruiz, “A prudent deprescription model,” Science Direct, Medicina Clínica, Volume 144, Issue 8, 20 April 2015, Pages 362-369.

 

Deprescribing medication

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There are two relatively new  terms in medical jargon that are worth knowing:

  • Polypharmacy: Taking a large number of prescription medications.
  • Deprescribing: Systematically reducing or eliminating medications that have been prescribed for a patient.

Pharmaceutical companies obviously provide information about when a drug should be used and about side effects that might indicate that the drug should not be used.

What’s rare is information about when a drug ceases to be effective or of value to the patient. Thus as people age, they tend to add prescriptions, and continue them beyond the point of the drug having any real value to the patient.

Dr Farrell notes that at her hospital in Ottawa, it is not unusual to see a patient on 25-30 medications. “Frequently, a medication is started to see whether it will help with certain symptoms—almost like a diagnostic test—but then the medication is never stopped,” she explains. “Ten years go by, and the family doctor retires or dies, and the patient sees a new family doctor who doesn’t know why the drug was prescribed in the first place but is scared to stop it. I see patients in their 80s and 90s who have been on a medication for 30 years, and no one can remember why they are taking it.” (1)

The Canadians are ahead of the US in tackling this issue, even though drug costs are substantially lower in Canada than in the US.

Dr. Barbara Farrell is a clinical scientist at the Bruyère Research Institute and the C.T. Lamont Primary Health Care Research Centre, and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine, University of Ottawa, Canada. She is a cofounder of the Canadian Deprescribing Network and codeveloper of deprescribing.org, a website for the dissemination and exchange of information about deprescribing approaches and research. (1)

Her Canadian team is in the process of developing guidelines for reducing or eliminating the medications prescribed for a patient.

Why is this important?

  • Some drugs lose or even reverse their effects over time (e.g., the cancer drug, tamoxifen, which can be used for no more than five years)
  • A drug to fight one illness may aggravate another condition the patient develops
  • There may be long term interactions or complex interactions from combinations of four or more medicines
  • A drug may simply cease to be of value to a patient. If a patient is confined to bed with dementia, does the cholesterol level really matter?
  • Costs

What you should consider:

  • Do you know what the medications you are taking do?
  • Have you talked with your doctor about whether you could reduce dosages?
  • Have you talked with your pharmacist recently about drug interactions and whether there are any long term risks to using a drug?

Ultimately, you’re the custodian of your body. Like a house or a car, your body needs maintenance and you need to be in control.


Sources:

  1. Lisa Brooks, “Easy to Start, Hard to Stop: Polypharmacy and Deprescribing,” Medscape, 1 June 2017. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/880716?nlid=115489_1521&src=WNL_mdplsfeat_170606_mscpedit_wir&uac=153634BV&spon=17&impID=1362583&faf=1
  2. Deprescribing.org/
  3. I A Scott et. al., “Reducing inappropriate polypharmacy: the process of deprescribing,” JAMA Intern Med. 2015 May;175(5):827-34. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.0324.
  4. Matthew Clark, “Deprescribing Medications,” Indian Health Service, undated.