Tasmanian research leads to drop in medication use in aged care facilities.

Dr Juanita Westbury.
Dr Juanita Westbury.

Ground-breaking Tasmanian research has led to a reduction in the use of medications in residential aged care facilities.

The research, led by Dr Juanita Westbury, a senior lecturer at the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, has attracted interest from the United States.

Dr Westbury said the RedUSe ,or Reducing USe of Sedatives intervention, was aimed at reducing the use of psychotropic medications (mainly antipsychotic and benzodiazepine medications) in residential aged care facilities across Australia.

It involved using the RedUSe intervention in more than 12,000 aged-care residents in 150 facilities.

Dr Westbury said as part of the two-year project, aged care staff were educated about alternatives to using medications and an audit was done of how much medication was being used.

“Initially two thirds of residents were prescribed psychotropic medications to manage high rates of sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression and the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia,” she said.

“For at least 20 years, concerns have been raised about inappropriate psychotropic prescribing in Australian residential aged-care facilities, due to their modest therapeutic benefits and high risks.

“These medications aren’t effective in many cases and can lead to many side effects including a higher risk of falls, pneumonia and stroke.”

She said under the intervention, the use of medications dropped significantly.

“Under RedUSe approximately 40 per cent of residents had their antipsychotic or benzodiazepine medication ceased completely or their dosage reduced,” Dr Westbury said.

“Furthermore, substitution to sedating antidepressants did not occur and the issuing on an ‘as needed’ basis of antipsychotics and benzodiazepines declined significantly.”

Dr Westbury said she had received an overwhelmingly positive response to the project from staff at residential aged care facilities.

“We were approached by more than 300 facilities from around Australia to be a part of this project,” she said.

“They were interested in any staff education or project developed to address this issue.

“I have been contacted by researchers in the United States who were impressed that we had a greater reduction in the use of medication in six months than they did in two years.”