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Alzheimer's Patients on Risperdal, Thorazine, Other Anti-Psychotic Drugs, More Likely to Die

Jan 9, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Using anti-psychotic drugs, such as Risperdal and Thorazine, to treat Alzheimer's disease patients isn't worth the increased risk of death, a new study concludes.  Such drugs are often used to stem aggression sometimes exhibited by Alzheimer's patients, but the new study conducted by British researchers found these medications could also double patients' chance of dying.

The research, conducted by scientists at the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases at King's College London, was published in today's issue of the journal Lancet.  For the study, the researchers followed 165 British patients aged 67 to 100 years with moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease from 2001 to 2004. Half were being treated with anti-psychotic drugs, including  Risperdal, Thorazine and Stelazine. The other half got placebos.

After a year, 39 patients of the 83 receiving anti-psychotic drugs had died.  Of the 82 taking placebos, 27 were dead after a year. Only 46 percent of those taking anti-psychotic were still alive after two years, while 71 percent remained alive in the placebo group.  After three years, the numbers of those living in the drug group dropped to 30 percent, while 59 percent of those in the placebo group were still living. 

This is just the latest study to show a correlation between anti-psychotic drugs and a higher death rate in Alzheimer's patients.  According to a report in the Associated Press, no one knows exactly why this association exists, but some surmise that they could be damaging to the brain.  Another theory is that their sedative effects make patients less mobile, which can make them more vulnerable to infection, the Associated Press said.

According to the Associated Press, anti-psychotic drugs are routinely given to up to 60 percent of dementia patients living in nursing homes.  They are used to control aggression, as well as the hallucinations they sometimes experience.  But guidelines recommend that such medications be used "cautiously and temporarily", the Associated Press said. In addition to the increased risk of death, anti-psychotic drugs are linked to other side effects, including respiratory problems, stroke and diabetes.

Clive Ballard, lead author of the Lancet article, told the Associated Press that the risks associated with anti-psychotic drugs are not worth the benefits.  "Would I want to take a drug that slightly reduced my aggression but doubled my risk of dying? I'm not sure I would," Ballard said.

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