April 20 (UPI) -- People with dementia are being prescribed unnecessary or inappropriate medications that are causing harm, including side effects and higher medical costs, a new study says.
Researchers at the University of Sydney and University of Kentucky studied 2,500 people and the effects of medication on dementia. They published their findings this week in the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.
"These findings are of major concern and highlight the importance of weighing up the harms and benefits of taking potentially unnecessary medications as they may lead to increased risk of side effects such as sedation or drowsiness, and adverse drug events such as falls, fractures and hospitalization," lead author Dr. Danijela Gnjidic, a senior lecturer at the Pharmacy and Charles Perkins Center at University of Sydney, said in a press release.
"Deprescribing unnecessary medications may improve an individual's quality of life and can reduce unnecessary healthcare cost."
Dementia, which is the deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior and the ability to perform everyday activities, affects around 50 million people worldwide, most of whom are older, according to the World Health Organization.
Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, may contribute to up to 70 percent of cases, WHO reports.
In the United States, an estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from the U.S.-based National Alzheimer's Coordinating Center, reviewing data on 2,418 adults who were at least 65 years old and newly diagnosed with dementia between 2005 and 15.
They found medication use increased by 11 percent in a year, and potentially inappropriate medication use increased by 17 percent. The inappropriate drugs were prescribed for sleeping, pain, depression and acid reflux.
"These medications are typically recommended for short-term use but are commonly used long term by people with dementia," Gnjidic said.
The researcher said there are a number reasons why this happens, including inadequate guidelines, too short physician-patient encounters, and difficulties with decision-making, comprehension, communication and in establishing goals of care.
For those with dementia and caregivers, Gnjidic said "the key is to communicate closely with general practitioners, pharmacists and other health professionals to make informed decisions and to practice good medicine management techniques to minimize the risk of side effects."