Antidepressants may significantly disrupt older adults' sleep patterns and cause a disorder that can contribute to dementia, according to new research.

Investigators at SUNY Upstate Medical University analyzed 10 studies published within the last five years to determine how antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, affect sleep.

“We take into account other side effects of antidepressants, including weight gain and sexual side effects, but we are less concerned about sleep, especially when we use the SSRIs,” said lead researcher Muhammad Tahir, M.D.

Tahir's team found that SSRIs interrupted seniors' sleep patterns and increased the risk for rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep disorders. These disorders often leave the body agitated during sleep, and can serve as an early sign of neurodegeneration that eventually progresses to dementia.

“Our literature review suggests that we should be careful about using SSRIs in the elderly population and not underestimate the effectiveness of psychotherapy and other holistic care approaches,” Tahir said.

Antidepressants other than SSRIs are generally not used for elderly patients because of their side effects, including fall risks, researchers noted. Tahir recommended that older patients with depression be screened for neurodegenerative disorders, and asked follow-up questions about their sleep quality if they are prescribed an SSRI.

The research was presented recently at the American Psychiatric Association's Institute of Psychiatric Services: The Mental Health Services 2016 Conference, held in Washington DC.​