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UMass Medical School Study Questions Alzheimer’s Treatments

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


More than half of the people in nursing homes who are in end stages of Alzheimer’s disease are prescribed medications with questionable benefits, according to a recently published UMass Medical School Study.

These treatments - such as medication to treat dementia and to lower cholesterol – not only drive up medical costs, but also put patients’ health at risk since may have troubles swallowing pills and communicating side effects to healthcare providers.

"The main concern centers on the under-appreciated burden and personal cost of using questionably beneficial meds," said study lead author Dr. Jennifer Tjia. with the department of quantitative health sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. “Giving many daily medications to these patients, who often have difficulty eating and swallowing, is often uncomfortable [for the patient].”

The study examines the medical records of 5,406 nursing home residents with advanced dementia in 460 facilities throughout the United States from a time period of 2009-2010. The report found that nearly 54-percent of patients had received at least one medication that had questionable benefits to the patient. This occurred because the doctor declined to take the patient off the medication even when the symptoms worsened over time.

“Giving so many medications is not consistent with the goals of care for these patients, which is typically comfort," said Dr. Tjia. “Many of these medications have very real health risks, such as nausea, sedation, arrhythmias [irregular heartbeat], and urinary retention.”

The study was published in the Sept. 8th online issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. The study notes that the U.S. Institute of Medicine suggests keeping treatment for terminally ill patients to a minimum.


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