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Antidepressants Could Increase the Risk of Falls in Dementia Patients

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Since many older dementia patients also suffer from depression, they’re often prescribed antidepressant medication — something that researchers now say could more than triple their risk of injuries from falls.

Selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can cause side effects such as dizziness and unsteadiness, and while it had been hoped that newer SSRI-type drugs would reduce those problems, the latest research from the Netherlands’ Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam appears to actually show the opposite.

Dr. Carolyn Sterke, who recorded the daily drug use and records of falls in 248 nursing home residents over a two-year period, found the risk of having an injury-causing fall was three times higher among people taking SSRIs compared with those not taking the drug, and that this risk rose further if the patient was also being given sedatives.

Professor Clive Ballard, from the Alzheimer’s Society, told the BBC it was “worrying” that such a commonly prescribed anti-depressant was causing increased risk, and said additional research is now needed to understand why it’s happening and if there are alternative treatments for depression that could be used instead.

Dr. Sterke said the risks needed to be taken into account when assessing whether anti-depressants are required, adding, “Physicians should be cautious in prescribing SSRIs to older people with dementia, even at low doses.”

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