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Current psychotropic medication prescribing patterns in late-life bipolar disorder

Rej S, Herrmann N, Shulman K, Fischer HD, Fung K, Gruneir A. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2017; 32(12):1459-65. Epub 2016 Dec 2.


Objective — Many patients with bipolar disorder are reaching old age, but whether they are receiving evidence-based psychotropic treatment remains unclear. Our objective was to describe current psychotropic prescribing patterns in a large Canadian late-life bipolar sample.

Methods — Population-based cross-sectional study of 1443 bipolar disorder patients aged ≥ 66, discharged from a psychiatric hospitalization in Ontario, Canada from 1 April 2006 to 31 March 2012. We described psychotropic medication prescribing within 30 days post-discharge.

Results — Prescription of ≥2 psychotropic medications was highly prevalent (81.5%). The most common medications were atypical antipsychotics (75.3%), benzodiazepines/zopiclone (42.3%), and antidepressants (38.5%), with less frequent use of valproate (35.4%) and lithium (23.4%). Only 1.4% of patients were on lithium monotherapy, while 4.4% and 15.7% of patients were on antidepressant or atypical antipsychotic monotherapy; 8.9% of all patients were using ≥2 atypical antipsychotics.

Conclusions — In clinical practice, older adults hospitalized with bipolar disorder are often prescribed multiple psychotropic medications upon discharge. In many instances, practices did not reflect bipolar treatment guidelines and may be putting patients at risk for poor physical health and psychiatric outcomes. One such example is the very infrequent use of lithium monotherapy. Future research should examine whether health system-wide protocolized late-life bipolar treatment may optimize prescribing to improve effectiveness and safety.

Keywords: Psychiatric disorders Drug prescribing behaviour Drugs (psychotherapeutic) Geriatrics and aging

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