Posted by:27 January, 2014
When reading about the background to the upcoming NICE guideline on medication use in residential homes (due March 2014), I was surprised to find that, despite the fact that the majority are not licensed for use in people with dementia, this is a widespread practice.
Risperidone, which is commonly used to control some distressing behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, is licensed only in specific circumstances and only for up to six weeks.
A review in 2009 found that around 180,000 people with dementia in the UK alone are prescribed antipsychotic medication, and it is suggested that two-thirds of these are prescribed them inappropriately.
Having nursed patients taking anti-psychotic medication, I am only too aware of the serious and life-changing impact extrapyramidal side-effects can have on those taking them. These risk of these side-effects increase with age. In addition, there is an associated risk of cardiac arrest and stroke.
At times, antipsychotics may be helpful to a person with dementia in the short-term. But it appears they are often used as a first-line response to some of the more difficult to manage symptoms of dementia. This raises the question as to whether they are prescribed to help the person with dementia, or to help those caring for them.
Changes clearly need to be made. Agitation and aggression may be caused by an underlying health problem that the person is unable to communicate, or this may be how the person is expressing their fear and confusion. One-on-one time with a person who is clearly distressed can help to alleviate these symptoms, but this is only possible if staff or family members are available.
None of this is new. The National Dementia and Antipsychotic Prescribing Audit has been gathering this information since 2009. It therefore stands to reason that the NICE guideline will reflect five years of careful consideration.
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