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More access to antidementia medication needed: new study

More should be done to ensure that people with dementia who are appropriate candidates are offered the opportunity to trial antidementia medication.

This is the opinion of a new study looking into antidementia medication usage in Australia.

The study found that antidementia medication use often varies by factors that are not clinically relevant, such as gender and income, even though medications, such as cholinesterase inhibitors (CEI) and memantine, have been developed that can improve symptoms and quality of life for people with Alzheimer-type dementia and may reduce behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

According to the study, people with mild to moderate Alzheimer-type dementia have been shown to benefit from these medications, however access to the drugs can be a problem.

A diagnosis is needed by a specialist for subsidisation of antidementia medication by the PBS, and further six-monthly assessments are required to obtain refills on the prescription. This can be especially challenging for people in remote areas, people with no access to transport or those in aged care facilitates.

People from low-socioeconomic backgrounds and those of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds also face barriers to accessing the drugs, due to slower diagnosis of dementia.

The study was conducted as currently little is known about the use of antidementia drugs in Australia.

A study in the early 2000s found that only 1.4 per cent of community-dwelling Australians with dementia were using these drugs, but 11 per cent were on antipsychotics. This is compared to the US, where use is around 40 per cent, and 37 per cent in the UK.

The study found that antidementia medication use in RACFs in Australia varied by remoteness and also gender. Women were more likely to use the drugs at a younger age, while men tended to use the drugs at an older age.

Researchers also found that, much like the previous study from the 2000s, antipsychotic medication was more widely prescribed in RACFs.

“Given that antidementia medications can be helpful for treating behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), it was also surprising that use of these medications was so low when use of much more risky antipsychotics for BPSD is highly prevalent in Australia,” the study stated.

Altogether, researchers found that only 10 per cent of those with dementia in RACFs were using antidementia medication.

The study said that although antidementia treatments can have modest benefits and potential side effects, those residents deemed ideal candidates should not have access curtailed by education, income, where they live or their country of origin.

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