Antipsychotics Up Death Risk in Alzheimer’s Patients
January 9, 2009
Alzheimer’s patients who are prescribed antipsychotic drugs face a higher risk of death than similar patients not given these medications do, British researchers report.
“It’s an eye-opening study since it was one of the few non-company sponsored studies to look at long-term risks,” said dementia expert Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, chief of the biological psychiatry division at Duke University.
“Antipsychotics are not and never were indicated for use in people with dementia,” he added. “But millions of elderly [people] were put on antipsychotics in nursing homes, often with little or no evidence to support such use.”
For the study, lead researcher Dr. Clive Ballard, of the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases at King’s College London, and his colleagues randomly assigned 128 Alzheimer’s patients to one of several antipsychotics or a placebo. The antipsychotic drugs included thioridazine, chlorpromazine, haloperidol, trifluorperazine or risperidone.
The researchers found that, for the whole study period, the risk of death was 42 percent lower among people taking a placebo compared with those taking antipsychotics.
After one year of follow-up, 70 percent of the patients taking antipsychotics were still living, compared with 77 percent of those on placebo.
But after two years, 46 percent of those taking antipsychotics were alive, compared with 71 percent of those taking placebo. And after three years, only 30 percent of those on antipsychotics were alive, compared with 59 percent of those taking a placebo, the researchers found.
The findings were published online Jan. 8 in The Lancet Neurology…
William Thies, chief medical officer at the Alzheimer’s Association, said his group suggests that “non-pharmacological treatments” may be as effective as the antipsychotic drugs and should be considered first.
“Non-pharmacological treatments are things like changing the environment of the patient, changing the way the patient is addressed, and eliminating certain triggering events that may cause deteriorations in patient behavior,” he said.
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