The drugs in question are selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and are frequently prescribed to elderly patients who suffer from dementia.
The study, which was conducted by researchers from the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam – recorded the daily drug use and number of falls in 248 nursing home residents over a two-year period.
The results of the study suggested that 152 of the patients had suffered a total of 683 falls, some of which had extreme consequences. 220 falls resulted in injuries, including broken bones and hip fractures.
More research is needed in order to establish why the anti-depressant is having this effect on dementia patients, and the Alzheimer’s Society has also called for more research into alternative treatments.
The results of the study showed that the risk of falls was calculated to be three times higher for individuals taking SSRIs than for care home patients not taking the drug – a considerably higher risk especially considering that many of these patients are also on sedative drugs at the same time.
Until more research has been undertaken and a link has been uncovered between SSRIs and an increased risk of falls, experts are recommending that the increased risk be taken into account when the elderly are being assessed to see whether the anti-depressants need to be prescribed.
Researcher Dr Carolyn Sterke said “Physicians should be cautious in prescribing SSRIs to older people with dementia, even at low doses.”
Professor Clive Ballard, from the Alzheimer’s Society, added: “More research is now needed to understand why this anti-depressant is having this effect on people with dementia and if there is an alternative treatment for depression that they could be prescribed”.
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