A drug used to treat depression in elderly patients suffering from dementia triples the risk of a fall.

The drug known as selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is frequently prescribed to dementia patients by care home staff.

A study investigating the effects of this drug on dementia patients has prompted calls for more research into alternative treatments.

The study recorded the daily use of this and newer SSRI- type drugs in 248 nursing homes over a two year period. The average age was 82 and the study suggests that 152 patients suffered 683 falls over the observed period. 220 falls resulted in injuries including fractured bones and even the death of one patient.

The risk of a fall was further increased if in addition to the SSRIS the dementia patient was taking sedative drugs.

More research is now needed

Professor Clive Ballard, from the Alzheimer’s Society said: “It is important to highlight any aspect of care that might be causing risk to a person with dementia. We want to ensure that people with the condition are always receiving the best care possible.

"More research is now needed to understand why this anti-depressant is having this effect on people with dementia and if there is an alternative treatment for depression that they could be prescribed.

"One in three people over 65 will die with dementia yet research into the condition continues to be drastically underfunded. We must invest now."

Anne Osborn, Clinical Negligence compensation specialist at Thompsons Solicitors commented: “The figures from the study are extremely worrying for the wellbeing of vulnerable patients. The risks need to be taken into account when assessing who is given this drug. Until a complete picture is available the risks mean it shouldn’t be prescribed on a wide scale and should only be given when there is no alternative.”