Study Finds That Pneumonia Treatment May be Harming Dementia Patients

Nursing homes give dementia patients antibiotics to treat pneumonia on a regular basis, but a new study reveals that this widespread practice may be causing as much harm as good. It found that using pneumonia fighting antibiotics can prolong patients’ lives, but can also lead to increased pain, depression, anxiety, and agitation.

Currently there are an estimated 5 million Americans diagnosed with dementia and that number that is expected to more than double over the next two decades as baby boomers age. The researchers hope the study will lead care-givers to consult with family members of dementia patients instead of automatically giving antibiotics for pneumonia. One geriatrician involved, said her team launched its six-year study because there was little science about the benefits and risks of antibiotic treatment to offer families.

Her study, published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, followed 323 nursing home residents with advanced dementia in 22 long-term care facilities between 2003 and 2009. It found that the vast majority of the patients, 91 percent, received antibiotics for episodes of pneumonia. Most of these patients, 55 percent, were given the medication orally, but at least 20 percent received more aggressive treatment, with hospitalization or antibiotics administered intravenously. Patients who did not receive antibiotic treatments expressed the highest levels of comfort, based on observations of patients’ restlessness, agitation, moaning, and other behaviors that might indicate pain and discomfort. Comfort levels were progressively lower as the aggressiveness of care increased. For more on the study, read the story.

Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.

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