SSRIs Could Increase Dementia In Seniors
Dosing and regular patient monitoring may help reduce potential cognitive side effects
In the last 25 years, rates of antidepressant use in America have more than quadrupled, with 11% of the population taking these drugs– most of which are SSRIs. Otherwise known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs help to treat issues like depression, anxiety, and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, which can effectively alleviate many of the symptoms of these disorders.
While SSRIs have helped many Americans become mentally healthy, research is beginning to indicate that SSRIs may have harmful side effects for patients 65 and older. If your older parent or relative is being treated with SSRIs, and has problems with memory and thinking skills, should you be worried? The answer: It depends.
If an older relative is considering SSRIs for depression, consider alternatives first
For older individuals suffering from depression, SSRIs may be an effective treatment– but that doesn’t mean that they should be a patient’s first choice, especially considering the potential side effects. Before considering medication like SSRIs, many doctors recommend psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, and exploring other holistic therapies.
Depression in older adults is commonly a result of isolation and lack of daily activities and responsibilities. Depending on the situation and abilities of the individual, getting active, being outside, and increased involvement in the community may alleviate many symptoms of depression and anxiety. Senior activity groups, regular exercise, volunteering, hobbies, sports, and part-time jobs are all potential ways for older individuals to get out more and maintain an active social life. This can take their minds off the negative and recurring thoughts that often characterize depression and anxiety disorders. In some situations, moving to a 55+ senior community or other group living setting where older individuals can retain their independence while improving their social lives may also be an effective solution to combat depression.
Lower doses may keep medications effective while minimizing cognitive harm
Some doctors suggest that elderly patients should start with only half the SSRI dose of younger patients– as lower doses may be able to treat depression and anxiety symptoms while reducing both cognitive and physical side effects. If a senior relative is finding that SSRI medications help alleviate their depression symptoms, but you think it may also be hastening their dementia symptoms, you may want to speak with their doctor about potentially reducing their dose.
SSRIs may also affect sleep and dreams in seniors
In addition to potentially hastening cognitive decline in older patients, SSRIs could be negatively affecting their sleep patterns. Some researchers have also linked the medications to a reduction in quality REM sleep and an increase in sleep disorders, including nightmares– which could have the unintended effect of exacerbating anxiety and depression symptoms in patients.
Common physical SSRI side effects may also affect seniors with pre-existing conditions
When deciding whether it’s a good idea for seniors to take SSRIs, it’s also important to consider common age-independent side effects of the drugs, including weight-gain and sexual side effects. While these side effects may not cause serious problems for many seniors, older adults with weight problems may be at risk for high cholesterol, blood pressure issues, and even heart attacks if SSRIs cause them to gain additional weight.
Despite potential side effects, SSRIs are often the safest depression medication for seniors
While it may be tempting to consider non-SSRI medications for your senior relative, most doctors agree that other common depression and anxiety medications– including MAO-inhibitors and benzodiazepines, carry far too many health risks for seniors.
It’s also important to understand that the link between SSRIs and increased dementia hasn’t been fully proven– only indicated, and that depression is a potential side effect of early-stage dementia. Therefore, patients with dementia may be prescribed with SSRIs at a higher rate than the general population. This means that the SSRIs may not necessarily be causing dementia, only treating one of its symptoms.
Overall, SSRIs remain an effective medication for many, but not all patients– including senior citizens. If your senior relative is combating depression, SSRIs may be able to help, but it’s smart to look into other options first. If they’re already on SSRIs and experiencing side effects, a dose reduction may be able to help. Before your older relative makes any changes to their medication doses, have them get the approval of an experienced psychiatrist– as quickly reducing SSRI doses may have extremely serious side effects.
To learn more about how to help your senior relatives through a variety of health and lifestyle related issues, contact Caring Solutions LLC today for a free consultation.