Pills or capsules as a question mark and white plastic bottle.

The Risks of Over Medicating Seniors with Alzheimer’s Disease

There are numerous medicines prescribed to persons suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. While none of these are a cure, they can help slow down memory loss. Other medications are usually prescribed in combination with these drugs to treat related issues such as restlessness, anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, and aggression.

The seriousness of the Problem

Many of the drugs to address these issues can make problems worse. According to a recent study reported by HealthDay News on March 10, 2021, people older than 65 should not be prescribed three or more CNS (central nervous system depressant) medications at the same time because the interactions can be potentially dangerous. The study analyzed 2018 Medicare prescription data for more than 1.2 million people with dementia and found that nearly 14% were taking three or more CNS-active drugs at the same time for at least a month.

Excessive consumption of depressants can lead to respiratory depression, seizures, and potentially even death. CNS depressants should not be combined with any medication or substance that causes sedation, including prescription pain medicines, certain over-the-counter allergy medications, and alcohol. If combined, they can slow breathing, heart rate, and respiration, which can be fatal.

It is extremely dangerous to combine multiple CNS depressants because the risk of serious complications such as overdose, respiratory failure, and death is greatly magnified.

Drugs to Avoid

It is generally recommended that people with Alzheimer’s shouldn’t take anticholinergic drugs. These drugs are used to treat many medical problems such as sleeping problems, stomach cramps, incontinence, asthma, motion sickness, and muscle spasms.

Side effects, such as confusion, can be serious for a person with Alzheimer’s. These drugs shouldn’t be given to a person with Alzheimer’s disease.

Recommended Inquiry

The National Institute on Aging suggests that you should always ask the pharmacist the following questions about the medications prescribed for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Why is this medicine being used?
  • What positive effects should I look for and when?
  • How long will the person need to take it?
  • How much should he or she take each day?
  • When does the person need to take the medicine?
  • What if the person misses a dose?
  • What are the side effects and what can I do about them?
  • Can these medicine cause problems if taken with other medications?

Herbal Medicines

A growing number of herbal remedies, dietary supplements, and “medical foods” are promoted as memory enhancers or treatments to delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease. You should be aware that the rigorous scientific research required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the approval of a prescription drug is not required by law for the marketing of dietary supplements or “medical foods.

” There may not be scientific research to support the claims about the benefits of the medicine and the effects of their interaction with other drugs your loved one is receiving may be unknown. Caution should always be used and no one should administer a supplement without first consulting with a physician.

Sources: Donovan Maust, MD, associate professor, psychiatry, Michigan Medicine; Howard Fillit, MD, founding executive director and chief science officer, Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, and clinical professor, geriatric medicine and palliative care, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City; Journal of the American Medical Association, March 9, 2021; https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/managing-medicines-person-alzheimers.


For more than 30 years, Attorney Lee A. Drizin has practiced in the areas of estate planning, probate, trusts, guardianship, and real estate matters representing clients throughout the state of Nevada.

Drizin Law is providing this information for educational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. This information is based on general principles of Nevada law at the time it was created and you should be aware laws frequently change. Moreover, the laws affecting you may differ depending on the circumstances. You should consult with a qualified attorney in your own state or jurisdiction concerning your particular situation. Review of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.