Painkillers Can be More Effective Than Antipsychotics in Treating Agitation in Dementia Patients

Christine Kennard Health Pro July 19, 2011
  • Agitation causes untold misery for people with dementia, and their caregivers. A new study by researchers from the England and Norway has found that simple painkillers can significant improve relieve agitated behavior. Here at HealthCentral.com we have shared information about the extent to which pain in elders affects the way they behave. People who are unable to express their feelings and who are confused have to be carefully assessed in relation to their discomfort and possible pain.

     

    In this latest study, reported in the BMJ online, half the 352 patients in nursing homes in Norway were given painkillers with every meal. The reminder of the group continued with their usual medications. All of them had moderate-to-severe dementia. After eight weeks of treatment researchers found a 17 percent reduction in agitation symptoms in the group being given painkillers. In context, this is a far better level of improvement than would have been expected from treatment with antipsychotic medication.

     

    Treating agitation and violence in the mostly elderly group of people who suffer from Alzheimer's or other types of dementia is very difficult. Antipsychotic medications have very powerful sedative effects that can overwhelm the patient even if given in very small amounts. A lot of information is available to show that elders are more sensitive to toxic side-effects and to drug interactions and antipsychotic meds use has been shown to cause higher rates of death older people.

    Research into the prevalence of pain in elders in nursing homes is estimated at between 40 and 80 percent. There is evidence that people with cognitive disabilities may have an even higher risk of being under-medicated for pain. But giving painkillers does have to be carefully supervised by medical staff as they can cause problems and do have their own side-effects. Many common analgesics are cheap and this research does highlight pain as a significant cause of agitation, so these finding have to be welcomed. If this research helps to encourage a reduction in the numbers of people receiving powerful antipsychotic drugs, this is very welcome news.


    More Information on Alzheimer's and Pain
    Pain Assessment in Late Stage Alzheimer's
    When Your Loved One is Unable to Communicate Pain
    Caregivers Guide to Monitoring Drugs for Anxiety in Alzheimer's