Changes in anticholinergic load from regular prescribed medications in palliative care as death approaches.


Journal Article

Although there is an understandable emphasis on the side effects of individual medications, the cumulative effects of medications have received little attention in palliative care prescribing. Anticholinergic load reflects a cumulative effect of medications that may account for several symptoms and adverse health outcomes frequently encountered in palliative care. A secondary analysis of 304 participants in a randomised controlled trial had their cholinergic load calculated using the Clinician-Rated Anticholinergic Scale (modified version) longitudinally as death approached from medication data collected prospectively by study nurses on each visit. Mean time from referral to death was 107 days, and mean 4.8 visits were conducted in which data were collected. Relationships to key factors were explored. Data showed that anticholinergic load rose as death approached because of increasing use of medications for symptom control. Symptoms significantly associated with increasing anticholinergic load included dry mouth and difficulty concentrating (P < 0.05). There were also significant associations with increasing anticholinergic load and decreasing functional status (Australia-modified Karnofsky Performance Scale; and quality of life (P < 0.05). This study has documented in detail the longitudinal anticholinergic load associated with medications used in a palliative care population between referral and death, demonstrating the biggest contributor to anticholinergic load in a palliative care population is from symptom-specific medications, which increased as death approached.

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Agar, M; Currow, D; Plummer, J; Seidel, R; Carnahan, R; Abernethy, AP

Published Date

  • April 2009

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 23 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 257 - 265

PubMed ID

  • 19318461

Pubmed Central ID

  • 19318461

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1477-030X

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0269-2163

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1177/0269216309102528


  • eng