Dementia patients may just need simple painkillers to reduce agitation instead of commonly prescribed antipsychotic drugs, a British study has revealed.
Published in the British Medical Journal, the research found that many dementia sufferers are offered specialist drugs to reduce agitiation, a common symptom of the malady which affects the elderly.
However, it concluded that painkillers could reduce this symptom and therefore eliminate the need for antipsychotic alternatives that have risky side effects – in some cases these sedative medicines can make patients feel more aggressive and agitated.
Carried out as a joint venture between British and Norwegian scientists, the study involved 352 participants living in care homes in Norway suffering from dementia. Half of the participants were given a painkiller with every meal – after two months this group experienced a 17% drop in agitation symptoms, signalling that prescribing pain medication may be the way forward for dementia patients instead of a reliance on antipsychotics.
Author of the report Professor Clive Ballard said: “At the moment, pain is very under-treated in people with dementia, because it’s very hard to recognise. I think this could make a substantial difference to people’s lives – it could help them live much better with dementia.”
However, he added that painkillers should only be prescribed to patients under the supervision of a physician.
Nadra Ahmad, chairman of the National Care Association in the UK said: “Pain in itself is debilitating, so to identify it as the route cause of agitation and aggressive behaviour is a major breakthrough which will enable us to support people appropriately.”
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