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Psychotropic drug prescription in nursing home patients with dementia: influence of environmental correlates and staff distress on physicians’ prescription behavior

  • Sytse U. Zuidema (a1), Jos F. M. de Jonghe (a2), Frans R. J. Verhey (a3) and Raymond T. C. M. Koopmans (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 04 August 2011

Background: The aim of the study was to examine whether staff distress and aspects of the nursing home environment were associated with psychotropic drug use (PDU) in patients with dementia.

Methods: This was a cross-sectional study of 1289 nursing home patients with dementia from 56 Dementia Special Care Units (SCUs) in the Netherlands. The primary outcome was PDU. Potential correlates of PDU were staff distress, environmental correlates (the number of patients per unit or per living room, staff/patient ratio, and the presence of a walking circuit), and patient factors (gender, age, dementia severity, and neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPS)). Multilevel logistic regression analysis was used to estimate the relative contributions of predictor variables in explaining PDU.

Results: Staff distress, aspects of the physical nursing home environment and patients’ neuropsychiatric symptoms were independently associated with PDU. Staff distress at patients’ agitation was associated with antipsychotic and anxiolytic drug use (OR 1.66, 95% CI (1.16–2.36) and 1.62 (1.00–2.61), respectively). SCUs with more patients per living room had higher hypnotic drug use (OR 1.08, 95% CI (1.02–1.14)). Low staff/patient ratio was associated with high antidepressant drug use (OR 0.13, 95% CI (0.04–0.47)). The effects of nursing home environment on study outcome were smallest for antidepressant use (intra-SCU correlation 0.005) and highest for hypnotic use (intra-SCU correlation 0.171).

Conclusion: Staff distress and other environmental aspects are independently associated with PDU. These findings raise questions about the appropriateness of psychoactive drug prescriptions for nursing home patients with dementia.

Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: S. U. Zuidema, Department of Primary and Community Care, 117 ELG, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, P.O. Box 9101, 6500 HB Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Phone: +31 (0)243655324; Fax: +31 (0)243619558. Email:
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International Psychogeriatrics
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