A class of dementia drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors can contribute to significant weight loss compared to other types of dementia medications, noted a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. These commonly prescribed medications, which include Aricept (donepezil), Razadyne (galantamine) and Exelon (rivastigmine), are also known to have severe gastrointestinal side effects.
The study examined weight data for nearly 3,500 people diagnosed with dementia, comparing people taking cholinesterase inhibitors with those who took other medications. Twenty-nine percent of those taking cholinesterase inhibitors experienced "clinically significant" weight loss of 10 or more pounds in one year.
The findings are bad news for caregivers, who often struggle to get residents with dementia to eat well-rounded meals and to stay hydrated. Those who are taking cholinesterase inhibitors should be monitored closely for weight loss, and physicians also need to weigh the risks and benefits of cholinesterase inhibitors when prescribing them to older adults, the study suggested.
"This is very relevant to patient care because unintentional weight loss in older adults is associated with many adverse outcomes, including increased rates of institutionalization and mortality, a decline in functional status, and poorer quality of life," said Meera Sheffrin, MD, a geriatrics fellow at the University of California–San Francisco School of Medicine and the study’s lead author, in a university news release.