Objectives: In 2002, the canton of Fribourg, Switzerland, implemented a coordinated pharmaceutical care service in nursing homes to promote rational drug use. In the context of this service, a project was conducted to develop recommendations for the pharmacological management of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) in nursing home residents.
Design and methods: Selected evidence-based guidelines and meta-analysis sources related to the management of depression, insomnia, and agitation in dementia patients were systematically searched and evaluated. Evidence and controversies regarding the pharmacological treatment of the most common BPSD symptoms were reviewed, and treatment algorithms were developed.
Results: Ten evidence-based guidelines and meta-analyses for BPSD management were identified, with none specifically addressing issues related to nursing home residents. Based on this literature, recommendations were developed for the practice of pharmacological management of depression, sleep disturbances, and agitation in nursing home residents. For depression, SSRIs are considered the first choice if an antidepressant is required. No clear evidence has been found for sleep disturbances; the underlying conditions need to be investigated closely before the introduction of any drug therapy. Many drugs have been investigated for the treatment of agitation, and if necessary, antipsychotics could be used, although they have significant side effects. Several areas of uncertainty were identified, such as the current controversy about typical and atypical antipsychotic use or the appropriateness of cholinesterase inhibitors for controlling agitation. Treatment algorithms were presented to general practitioners, pharmacists, and medical directors of nursing homes in the canton of Fribourg, and will now be implemented progressively, using educational sessions, pharmaceutical counseling, and monitoring.
Conclusion: Based on existing evidence-based studies, recommendations were developed for the practice of pharmacological management of depression, sleep disturbances, and agitation in nursing home residents. It should be further studied whether these algorithms implemented through pharmaceutical care services will improve psychotropic drug prescriptions and prevent drug-related problems in nursing home residents.