Common painkiller shows harmful side effects in dementia

24 July 2018

Dementia researchers from across the globe have gathered in Chicago at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2018. UK-based scientists are presenting their work on the safety of an opioid-based pain killer, buprenorphine, in people living with dementia. The findings reveal that the drug was three times more likely to lead to harmful side effects than a placebo treatment.

Dr Laura Phipps from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“It is essential that people living with dementia are given as much help as possible to manage chronic pain, but this research suggests they may be particularly susceptible to harmful side-effects of common opioid-based painkillers.

“In this study, serious side-effects meant that more than half of people with dementia had to stop taking the opioid treatment. The findings are concerning as underlying pain can be a significant contributor to distress in people with dementia, who are not always able to communicate their needs to those around them. Understanding how to manage pain in people with dementia, many of whom also have other chronic health conditions, is incredibly important. Following this study, researchers need to explore whether tailoring dosages of painkillers for people with dementia could limit their side-effects while retaining their important benefits.

“If anyone has any concerns about the pain medication they have been prescribed they should speak to their doctor.”