Stopping dementia medication
It’s important not to stop taking a medication without speaking to a doctor first, as this may make dementia symptoms worse.
Sometimes, a person may accidentally not take their medication for several days or more. If so, they should talk to a doctor or pharmacist to get advice on the safest way to start again. They may need to restart on a lower dose and then increase it slowly.
A person may decide they no longer want to take a medication because they don’t think it’s helping, or it’s causing unpleasant side effects. In these cases, it’s still essential to talk to the doctor before stopping.
Why might someone want to stop taking medication?
There are several reasons why a person may want to stop taking medication, including:
- disliking the experience of taking it – for example, if it tastes bad or causes discomfort
- being worried about the side effects it causes
- feeling like the medication is not working.
A person with dementia may have other reasons for not wanting to take medication, including:
- being suspicious of the person who is offering it to them because they are experiencing delusions or paranoid thoughts
- pushing back against being told what to do – particularly if they don’t understand why they need to take medication
- feeling uncomfortable, tired, confused or distressed
- having difficulty handling or swallowing the medication
- being concerned or distressed about recent changes to the medication, such as a different shape or colour.
Many of these can be resolved with patience and understanding. However, if the person still wishes to stop taking their medication, it’s essential to talk to the GP or memory service first. They may be able to discuss prescribing a different form of the same medication that makes things easier.
Ultimately, it is a person’s choice whether or not to continue taking medication for their dementia, and they should be supported to make the decision that’s right for them.
What happens if someone stops taking their medication?
Missing doses of medication for dementia may make problems with memory and thinking worse. However, it won’t cause the disease in their brain to progress any faster.
When do people usually stop taking medication?
In the later stages of dementia, medications that help with memory and thinking are less likely to help as much. However, they still may improve symptoms slightly. Most doctors will continue to prescribe them unless:
- the side effects are having a negative impact on the person’s health or wellbeing
- the person can no longer safely take the medication in the way prescribed, even with support from someone else. In the last days or weeks of a person’s life, doctors will often review their medication. After discussion with someone who knows the person well, the doctor may then decide to stop dementia medication.