Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia affect one in six people aged over 80 years. The main treatments involves administering a class of medications called cholinesterase inhibitors. However, these medicines are marginally beneficial for most patients and may have serious side effects such as gastrointestinal symptoms. Weight loss is also a significant problem in dementia patients and has been linked to increased mortality. Researchers have now warned that common drugs used to treat dementia can result in harmful weight loss in the elderly.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from randomized controlled trials and found that this weight loss may be an under-recognized side effect of cholinesterase inhibitors. Lead study author Meera Sheffrin from University of California-San Francisco said, "Unintentional weight loss in older adults is associated with many adverse outcomes and poorer quality of life. Our study provides evidence in a large, real-world population that cholinesterase inhibitors may contribute to clinically significant weight loss in a substantial proportion of older adults with dementia."
Researchers compared a total of 1,188 patients started on cholinesterase inhibitors and matched them to 2,189 patients started on other medications. Nearly 29.3% of patients on the inhibitors experienced significant weight loss. The researchers said, "The sample also included mainly older male veterans so the generalizability of the findings to women is uncertain."
The study appears in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.