Antidepressants impair cognitive function in the elderly

New medical research provides preliminary evidence that psychoactive drugs such as antidepressants have both immediate and cumulative negative effects on cognitive performance for people age 80 and over.

"These kinds of medications are often prescribed to improve cognitive function. However, this study showed the opposite result. In addition, these drugs are also already associated with a number of negative side effects such as adverse drug reactions, and falls in the elderly," explains Cheryl Dellasega, Ph.D., associate professor of general internal medicine at Penn State and leader of the research team.

"At this point we don't know if the response is dose dependent or the result of the way the drug is administered. We just know that there were negative effects on cognition. Over time persons who took them had lower performance than those who did not, and secondly, persons who began taking them between measurement times showed the worst performance scores, " she notes.

"The implications of this study include that physicians and family members need to be aware that these elderly patients may need help managing their medications," she noted.

Dellasega and Denise Orwig, Ph.D., University of Maryland, Stig Berg, Ph.D., Halsohogskolan, Sweden, and James Walker, M.D., Penn State's College of Medicine, presented their findings, "The Cognitive Consequences of Long-Term Psychoactive Medication Use for the Oldest Old," at the recent American Geriatrics Society Meeting held in Nashville, Tenn.

The three-year study was of 351 people from Sweden age 80 and over. The participants were drawn from the Old-Old (OCTO)-Twin Study, a longitudinal study on this group that tracks every twin in Sweden born in 1913. Each participant was interviewed for approximately three and a half-hours using standard cognitive tests. Questions tested things such as short and long-term memory, reasoning, recognition of everyday items and simple calculations such as bal

Contact: Leilyn Perri
Penn State

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