Alzheimer’s patients who take antidepressant medications are at an increased risk for head injuries and traumatic brain injuries (TBI), according to a new study by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland.
Although previous research has suggested a link between antidepressant use and an increased risk for falls and hip fractures, the risk of head injuries had not yet been studied.
The new study is part of the nationwide register-based MEDALZ study, which includes all community-dwelling persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in Finland between the years 2005 to 2011. The research involved 10,910 antidepressant users and 21,820 nonusers, all of whom had Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings show that antidepressant use is associated with a greater risk of head injuries, especially at the beginning of use (during the first 30 days), but the risk persists even longer — up to two years.
Head injuries were found to be more common among older people than younger ones and were usually caused by falling. As antidepressant use has been previously associated with an increased risk of falling, the researchers were not surprised that the use of antidepressants also increased the risk of head injuries.
“However, our findings give cause for concern because persons with Alzheimer’s disease frequently use antidepressants, which have been considered a safer alternative to, for example, benzodiazepines,” said senior researcher Dr. Heidi Taipale from the University of Eastern Finland.
“Our study population consisted of persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but it is likely that the risk is similar also in other older persons without Alzheimer’s disease. This is something we will be studying in the future.”
The association with traumatic brain injuries was not as clear as for head injuries, which may be due to a smaller number of these events in the study population.
This link was also confirmed in a study design comparing time periods within the same person, therefore eliminating other factors. The use of other psychotropic drugs did not explain the observed associations.
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia in older people, accounting for between 60 and 80 percent of all cases. The disease is characterized by symptoms such as memory loss, language deterioration, poor judgment, confusion, restlessness, and mood swings. Alzheimer’s doubles the risk of premature death in people age 70 and older.
The study findings are published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy.
Source: University of Eastern Finland