Antidepressant use increases risk of head injuries among persons with Alzheimer’s disease

Antidepressant use is associated with an increased risk of head injuries and traumatic brain injuries among persons with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study from the University of Eastern Finland. Antidepressant use has previously been linked with an increased risk of falls and hip fractures, but the risk of head injuries has not been studied before. The results were published in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy .

Antidepressant use was associated with a higher risk of head injuries especially at the beginning of use – during the first 30 days –, but the risk persisted even longer, up to two years. The association was also confirmed in a study design comparing time periods within the same person, thus eliminating selective factors. The association with traumatic brain injuries was not as clear as for head injuries, which may be due to a smaller number of these events in the study population. The use of other psychotropic drugs did not explain the observed associations.

Head injuries are more common among older people than younger ones, and they are usually caused by falling. As antidepressant use has previously been associated with an increased risk of falling, the researchers were not surprised that the use of antidepressants also increased the risk of head injuries.

“However, our findings give cause for concern because persons with Alzheimer’s disease frequently use antidepressants, which have been considered a safer alternative to, for example, benzodiazepines,” says Senior Researcher Heidi Taipale from the University of Eastern Finland.

“Our study population consisted of persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but it is likely that the risk is similar also in other older persons without Alzheimer’s disease. This is something we will be studying in the future.”

The study constitutes part of the nationwide register-based MEDALZ study, which includes all community-dwelling persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in Finland during 2005-2011. The study included 10,910 antidepressant users and 21,820 nonusers, all of whom had Alzheimer’s disease.

For further information, please contact:

Heidi Taipale, Senior Researcher, School of Pharmacy, University of Eastern Finland, heidi.taipale(at)uef.fi

Sirpa Hartikainen, Professor, School of Pharmacy, University of Eastern Finland, sirpa.hartikainen(at)uef.fi

Research article:

Taipale H, Koponen M, Tanskanen A, Lavikainen P, Sund R, Tiihonen J, Hartikainen S, Tolppanen AM. Risk of head and traumatic brain injuries associated with antidepressant use among community-dwelling persons with Alzheimer’s disease, a nationwide matched cohort study. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, published online August 1, 2017. doi: 10.1186/s13195-017-0285-3.

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The University of Eastern Finland, UEF, is one of the largest universities in Finland. The activities of the UEF underscore multidisciplinarity, and the university is especially strong in research related to forests and the environment, health and well-being, and new technologies and materials. The UEF offers teaching in more than 100 major subjects. In addition to the high standard of teaching, the university offers its students a modern study environment, which is under constant development. The university comprises four faculties: the Philosophical Faculty, the Faculty of Science and Forestry, the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The university’s campuses are located in the heart of beautiful eastern Finland in Joensuu, Kuopio and Savonlinna. The UEF is home to approximately 15 000 students and nearly 2 800 members of staff.

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