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Trends in psychotropic dispensing among older adults with dementia living in long-term care facilities: 2004-2013


Objective — Guidelines worldwide have cautioned against the use of antipsychotics as first line agents to treat neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPS) of dementia. We aimed to investigate the changes over time in the dispensing of antipsychotics and other psychotropics among older adults with dementia living in long-term care facilities.

Methods — We used drug claims data from Ontario, Canada to calculate quarterly rates of prescription dispensing of six psychotropic drug classes among all elderly (>=65 years of age) long-term care residents with dementia from January 1, 2004, to March 31, 2013. Psychotropic drugs were classified into the following categories: atypical and conventional antipsychotics, non-sedative and sedative antidepressants, anti-epileptics and benzodiazepines. We used time-series analysis to assess trends over time.

Results — The study sample increased by 21% over the 10-year study period from 49,251 patients to 59,785 patients. The majority of patients (within the range of 75% to 79%) were dispensed at least one psychotropic medication. At the beginning of the study period atypical antipsychotics (38%) were the most frequently dispensed psychotropic, followed by benzodiazepines (28%), non-sedative antidepressants (27%), sedative antidepressants (17%), anti-epileptics (7%) and conventional antipsychotics (3%). While dispensing of anti-epileptics (2% increase) and conventional antipsychotics (1% decrease) displayed modest changes over time, we observed more pronounced changes in dispensing of benzodiazepines (11% decrease) and atypical antipsychotics (4% decrease). Concurrently, we observed a substantial growth in the dispensing of both sedative (15% increase) and non-sedative (9% increase) antidepressants. The proportion of patients dispensed two or more psychotropic drug classes increased from 42% in 2004 to 50% in 2013.

Conclusion — Utilization patterns of psychotropic drugs in institutionalized patients with dementia have changed over the past decade. Although their use declined slightly over the study period, atypical antipsychotics continue to be used at a high rate. A decline in the use of benzodiazepines along with an increased use of sedative and non-sedative antidepressants suggests that the latter class of drugs is being substituted for the former in the management of NPS. Psychotropic polypharmacy continues to be highly prevalent in these patient samples.



Vasudev A, Shariff SZ, Liu K, Burhan AM, Herrmann N, Leonard S, Mamdani M. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2015; 23(12):1259-69. Epub 2015 Jul 16.

Contributing ICES Scientists