Rates of antipsychotic drug prescribing among people with dementia increased substantially in six high-income countries during the initial months of the pandemic and remained elevated through 2021, researchers reported yesterday in JAMA Psychiatry.
To examine trends in antipsychotic drug prescribing among people with dementia before and during the pandemic, a team led by researchers from the University of Hong Kong analyzed electronic health record and claims data from eight databases in Germany, France, Italy, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States from 2016 through November 2021. The study included all patients aged 65 years and older who had a diagnosis of dementia, and 365 days of observation, within the study period.
The study identified a total of 857,238 people (58% female) with a diagnosis of dementia. Although reductions were observed in the incidence of dementia and the total number of people with dementia prescribed antipsychotic drugs in the early phase of the pandemic in all countries except Germany, rates of antipsychotic drug prescribing for people with dementia increased markedly in six databases representing all countries.
Notably, the antipsychotic drug prescribing rates at the latest available months in 2021 were still among the highest compared with previous years.
Compared with the corresponding month in 2019, the most pronounced increase was observed in May 2020 in South Korea (rate ratio [RR], 2.11; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.47 to 3.02) and June 2020 in the United Kingdom (RR, 1.96; 95% CI, 1.24 to 3.09).
The rates of antipsychotic drug prescribing in these six databases remained high in 2021. Interrupted time series analyses revealed immediate increases in the prescribing rate in Italy (RR, 1.31; 95% CI, 1.08 to 1.58) and in the US Medicare database (RR, 1.43; 95% CI, 1.20 to 1.71) after the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions.
"Notably, the antipsychotic drug prescribing rates at the latest available months in 2021 were still among the highest compared with previous years," the study authors wrote. "This suggests that the burden of unmet needs in people living with dementia was substantial and that this population faced continued challenges in care even after the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic."