DOI: 10.1002/alz.076571 ISSN: 1552-5260

Characterizing PRN Use of Psychotropic Medications for Acute Agitation in Canadian LTC Residents With Dementia Before and During COVID‐19

Janet Hui Jue Wang, Raphael Kusumo, Alex Kiss, Gayla Beth Tennen, Giovanni Marotta, Shirley Viaje, Krista L. Lanctôt
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Health Policy
  • Epidemiology



Agitation is a prevalent and disabling neuropsychiatric symptom of dementia that comprises a constellation of behaviours involving excessive motor activity, physical aggression, and verbal aggression. Pro re nata (PRN) injections of antipsychotics and benzodiazepines can be administered for severe acute agitation, but best practices surrounding their use remain poorly characterized. The aim of this study was to compare the frequency of use of injectable PRN haloperidol, olanzapine, and lorazepam for acute agitation in Canadian long‐term care (LTC) residents with dementia before and during the COVID‐19 pandemic.


A retrospective chart review was conducted for patients from two Canadian LTC facilities who had orders for PRN haloperidol, olanzapine, or lorazepam between January 1, 2018–May 1, 2019 (i.e. pre‐COVID‐19) and January 1, 2020–May 1, 2021 (i.e. COVID‐19). We reviewed electronic medical records to document PRN administrations of these psychotropic medications and collect data on age, sex, dementia diagnosis, days of observation, care type, medical history, and concomitant medications. Descriptive statistics and multivariate logistic and Poisson regression models were used to analyze the data.


Of the 250 residents with dementia included, 45 of 103 (44%) people in the pre‐COVID‐19 period and 85 of 147 (58%) people in the COVID‐19 period with standing orders for injectable PRN haloperidol, olanzapine, or lorazepam received ≥1 injections of their prescribed medication. Haloperidol was the most frequently used agent (74% pre‐COVID‐19 and 81% during COVID‐19) and excessive motor activity (85% and 80%) was the most common indication for use in both time periods. Residents in the COVID‐19 period were two times more likely to receive PRN injections compared with those in the pre‐COVID‐19 period (OR = 1.96; 95% CI = 1.15‐3.34; p = 0.01). Count of injections per patient was not significantly different between the two time periods (IRR = 1.35; 95% CI = 0.78‐2.33; p = 0.3).


Our results contribute to the mounting evidence that agitation worsened in LTC residents with dementia during the pandemic and add to the limited existing literature on actual use of PRN psychotropic medications for acute agitation. The increased need for PRN rescue medications may be an indirect consequence of COVID‐19 restrictions, particularly the restrictions on socialization.

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