Researchers say painkillers may triple side effects in dementia patients

Commonly-prescribed opioid-based painkillers may lead to harmful side effects in people with dementia.

Two studies from the University of Exeter and the University of Berge found that people with dementia suffered more side effects from use of commonly prescribed opioid painkillers.

After paracetamol, opioid-based painkillers like codeine, morphine, dihydrocodeine, methadone, buprenorphine and diamorphine are often the next option for treatment in people with dementia.

The side effects noticed included personality changes and confusion.

“Pain is a symptom that can cause huge distress and it’s important that we can provide relief to people with dementia,” said Clive Ballard, professor of age-related diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School.

“Sadly at the moment, we’re harming people when we’re trying to ease their pain.

“We urgently need more research in this area, and we must get this dosing right. We need to establish the best treatment pathway and examine appropriate dosing for people with dementia.”

The researches suggest that the reason people with dementia are more susceptible to opioid-based painkillers is that they over-produce the body’s natural opioids.

The study concluded that the dosage of opioid-based painkillers urgently needs to be reviewed in people with dementia to enable safe and effective treatment of pain, and prevent unnecessary harm and deaths.


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