The number of older people prescribed drugs that impact their mood and behaviour almost doubles when they move to care homes in Northern Ireland, new research has indicated.
A Queen's University study of 250,000 people over 65, found an increase from 14% to 26% of people being prescribed any kind of psychotropic drug on entering care.
Of those people who went into care, antipsychotic drug dispensing more than doubled from 8% before entry to 18% afterwards - compared with just 1% of older people living in the wider community.
The study also showed how one in six people who had no history with psychotropic drugs were prescribed them when they entered a home, with nearly 40% of new residents given a hypnotic drug at least once during their first six months in care.
Lead researcher Aideen Maguire, who is based in the Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland said: "Although drug dispensing is high in older people in the community, we have found that it increases dramatically on entry to care. This study showed that the high uptake of psychotropic drugs observed in care homes in Northern Ireland cannot be explained by a continuation of drug use initiated in the community prior to entering care."
Ms Maguire cited new diagnoses, the worsening of an existing condition, drugs not being prescribed as they should be or their use to help with anxiety related to going into care as possible reasons for the increase.
She said: "With an ageing population globally it is important that we look at the reasons behind this type of increase following admission to care. Antipsychotic uptake in Northern Ireland is similar to that in the rest of the UK and Ireland, and this study highlights the need for routine medicines reviews especially during the transition into care."
With an increasingly aged population and the number of people entering care set to increase, Professor Carmel Hughes from the School of Pharmacy at Queen's said it is important society looks at the quality of care provided to older people.
She added: "It is vitally important that we look at the reasons behind the increase in the prescription of psychotropic drugs in care homes."
The study, which was carried out by researchers from Queen's Centre for Public Health in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, was carried out between 2008-2010 and is due to be published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.