Dear Dementia Solutions – December 2016


Asking “Why” When it Comes to Psychotropic Medication

How Do I Approach the Doctor in Asking About the Reasons for Prescribing Certain Psychotropic Medications?

Dear Dementia Solutions:

“Questions have been swirling in my mind ever since I attended my first family care conference for my mum, who has memory loss. The doctor stated that she had dementia and that, in keeping with what is normal for patients like her, she should be given a mild dose of a psychotropic medication. This concerns me because, to my knowledge, she hasn’t displayed any aggressive behaviour. I don’t want to question the doctor’s expertise but I also don’t want my mum to take medications she may not need. Can you help?”

~Medication Uncertainty

Dear Medication Uncertainty:

Firstly know that, as your mother’s representative, you have every right to question whether the medications she’s receiving are appropriate. Too many people are intimidated by questioning doctors and others in positions of authority and expertise, because they falsely equate ‘questioning’ with ‘challenging.’ The doctor may have very valid reasons for his prescription, but it’s important that you fully understand these reasons and feel comfortable with them.

Start by doing some of your own research into the particular medication being prescribed and its side effects. Generally, psychotropic medications, such as Ativan or Seroquel are capable of affecting the mind, emotions and behaviour, and are usually used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia. They may also be accompanied by serious side effects, which is further reason for reading up on the medication the doctor suggested.

As part of your research, I would also recommend reading a fascinating article by the Office of the Seniors Advocate of BC about the use of antipsychotic medications in care homes and statistics about seniors prescribed these drugs without a diagnosis. (The article can be found here:¬

Remember that knowledge is power and armed with a better understanding of the issue at hand, you will feel more prepared and confident when it comes to asking questions. Also note that if reluctant to question a doctor, you can always ask a nurse. They often work closely with patients by monitoring their charts, and can act as messengers in forwarding your inquiries to the doctor.
At the end of the day, the question you are asking is a very simple one— “Why?” Once you understand the “Why” behind a doctor’s suggestion, you can then help make an informed decision about the best type of care for your mum. 

Do you have a specific question relating to dementia that you need answered? Please submit your questions by email to: [email protected]. For more Dear Dementia columns, search “Dear Dementia” on

Karen Tyrell CDP, CPCA, is a Dementia Consultant, Educator & Author, and Founder of Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. ( Karen offers her expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements, workshops and by working one-on-one with families and caregivers to provide emotional support and practical solutions.

The contents of this column are provided for information purposes only. They are not intended to replace clinical diagnosis or medical advice from a health professional. For any health related issue, always seek medical advice first from a trained medical professional.