When dementia patients develop aggressive or violent behavior, antipsychotic medications are sometimes used to subdue symptoms. However, a study recently published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that the use of antipsychotic medications can increase the risk of early death in patients with dementia, including those with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Donovan Maust, lead author of the study and a University of Michigan psychiatrist, explained that these types of drug are sometimes necessary but the risks should also be fully disclosed. “It’s not that drugs should never be used nor does the research minimize the distress among patients and loved ones if those symptoms aren’t addressed.” he said. “When you’re prescribing a medication that’s related to a harm — and that’s mortality — that’s something you really need to think about,”
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan’s Medical School and VA Center for Clinical Management Research, used medical records from over 91,000 veterans over the age of 65 to compare mortality death rates between patients taking antipsychotic drugs for dementia versus those who did not. The study found a 3.8 percent increased risk of death in patients taking haloperidol compared to those who did not take any antipsychotic medications. There was a 2.5 percent increased risk of death in patients taking olanzapine.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already warns that antipsychotic drugs can have serious side effects in patients with dementia. The findings from this study support the practice of not using these drugs in dementia patients.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), antipsychotic medications were prescribed to 35 percent of older nursing home residents with dementia in 2012. That same year, 14 percent of dementia patients outside of nursing homes were prescribed antipsychotic drugs.