It's important that co-existing conditions don't determine a person’s course of treatment

Toby Williamson, Head of Development and Later Life:

"Results published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology today alarmingly showed that nursing home residents with dementia who use anti-depressants are three times more likely to have a fall than nursing home residents who don't use anti-depressants.

Depression can happen to any person of any age, and it is important that co-existing conditions do not determine a person’s course of treatment. However, it appears that this is what is happening for many people with dementia and depression living in nursing homes, who are being prescribed anti-depressants without other non-medical treatments being taken in to account, consequently putting their overall health at risk.

Everybody’s experience of depression is different and it is true that anti-depressants can be effective for many people. But what we're concerned about is that people with dementia and depression are being prescribed anti-depressants in the first instance, when other suitable treatment options, such as talking therapies (many people in the early stages of dementia are still able to use talking therapies), exercise schemes or changes to diet, could be considered. This is not the first time this concern has been raised; our Be Mindful report revealed that 75% of GPs prescribed medication to people with long-term depression believing that another treatment would be more appropriate.

We know that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy cuts relapse rates in half for recurrent depression (Be Mindful, 2010), that regular exercise can help people to recover from depression and protect people against becoming depressed in the first instance (Up & Running!, 2005), and that improvements to people with depression’s diets can help to improve their mood (Healthy eating and depression, 2007). When we have such a vast amount of evidence highlighting the effectiveness of alternative treatments for depression, and further evidence illustrating the potential negative side-effects and consequences of anti-depressants, we hope that a wide range of treatment options will be available for all people with depression - in this case, regardless of whether they have dementia or not.

It would also be interesting to know if nursing home residents with dementia and depression who were prescribed anti-depressants were more likely to have a fall than residents who only had depression and were prescribed anti-depressants - if there isn’t much of a difference the dementia is a red herring!"

Published 19 January 2012 |
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