The effects of Alzheimer’s are usually discussed in terms of the internal damage to the brain and its functions. From memory loss to lack of mobility, this disease is known to impair cognitive function. There is a long list of medications used to treat this disease and they can also add unwanted or unexpected consequences. Unfortunately, having Alzheimer’s is not a single disease and can be paired with many other damaging conditions.
Antidepressants are used as mood stabilizers to help patients gain control of their emotional states and also to help relieve some of the anxiety issues brought on. For those who aren’t suffering from Alzheimer’s, antidepressants carry many risks that can be amplified in Alzheimer’s patients.
When changing the chemistry of the brain, medicines work by either triggering or hindering the release of certain hormones or endorphins. For example, one of the most common side effects of many medicines is feeling drowsy after taking them. But drowsiness is only one small issue compared to what Alzheimer’s patients can fall victim to.
A nationwide study, MEDALZ, collected data over a six year period to highlight the correlation between Alzheimer’s patients and head injuries. As we age, we lose one of our senses known as proprioception, which is the unconscious but constant sense of knowing where our physical bodies are in time and space. While previous studies indicated that antidepressants could attribute to hip fracture and general falls, the case for head injuries had not been developed further. Typically, when introducing a new, routine medicine, there is a standard waiting time (one full month) needed to see what effects taking the medicine could have.
The MEDALZ data suggests that the first month of antidepressant use is also paralleled with an increased risk of head injury. Another cohort study performed in Finland revealed that the risk of head trauma caused by antidepressant did not subside as previously expected following the first 30 days. This risk can last upwards of two years and could also attribute to further traumatic brain injury (as what happens when a body is jerked violently or falls).
What can trigger an accidental fall and subsequent head injury is a combination of the disorientation and confusion caused by Alzheimer’s with the brain trying to regulate hormonal imbalances via antidepressants. Alzheimer’s patients, however, are given antidepressants because they are supposed to be less damaging and restricting than other drugs, like benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepines are a class of drug that includes Valium and work as more of a sedation agent. While there “might be” some benefits to this drug type, there are other side effects that could be especially dangerous to an already weakened Alzheimer patient’s body. These include lowered blood pressure, inability to speak, dizziness and further emotional and mood swings. Alzheimer’s disease is a serious and extremely taxing disease that is further complicated by the methods used to treat it.
While antidepressants are still the preferred method over low-potency benzodiazepines, there should still be other natural avenues explored to help these patients retain a respectable and good quality of life.