Painkillers may cause harmful side effects for people with dementia

Two new studies have suggest that opioid-based painkillers can cause harmful side effects for people with dementia.

Two new studies, presented at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Chicago today, have suggested that opioid-based painkillers can cause harmful side effects for people with dementia.

Researchers from the University of Exeter, King’s College London and the University of Bergen studied 162 Norwegian care home residents.

They identified a significant increase in harmful side effects, such as personality changes, confusion and sedation, related to the use of commonly prescribed opioid painkillers in people with dementia, compared to those on a placebo.

Sally Copley, Director of Policy Campaigns and Partnerships at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

'From calls to our helpline we know managing pain is vitally important, but sadly it often goes unmanaged as people in the later stages of dementia may find it more difficult to express the pain they are in.
 
'These results suggest that due to side effects like sedation, personality changes and confusion very careful consideration should be taken when prescribing opioid pain relief to people with dementia.

'However this study only involved people with dementia and depression and excluded people with severe pain, so it’s not clear if the results would be the same for people with dementia living in care homes with severe pain. 
 
'There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK – this number is set to rise to 1 million by 2021. That is why it is essential that we do everything we can to help people with dementia to live as well as possible, so any research that can help improve the quality of care is very welcome.'

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