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Antipsychotics increase long-term mortality in elderly patients with Alzheimer’s

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Elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease who are prescribed antipsychotic medication have a significantly increased long-term mortality risk, say UK researchers.

Previous studies have highlighted the short term adverse effects of using antipsychotics to treat this group of patients, including parkinsonism, accelerated decline in brain function and stroke.

But in the first study to assess the long term effects of these drugs on patient mortality, King’s College London researchers studied 128 elderly patients with Alzheimer’s. Half were treated with antipsychotic medication and the rest received a placebo.

The researchers found that the longer the patients were on antipsychotics, the higher the mortality rate compared to patients taking a placebo. After one year, there was a 70% survival rate in the antipsychotic group compared to 77% in the placebo group.

But after three years, only 30% of the antipsychotic group survived compared to 59% of the placebo group.

Overall, the risk of death was 42% lower in patients taking a placebo than in patients taking antipsychotics, the researchers said.

‘Safer management approaches’ are needed for this group of patients, they added.

‘Several studies have shown that psychological management can replace antipsychotic therapy without any appreciable worsening of neuropsychiatric symptoms,’ the researchers said online in the Lancet Neurology.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Anti psychotic drugs are used for more than Alzheimers and I am interested to discover how this new evidence relates to those people with learning disabilities, mental health issues and challenging behaviours.

    These drugs are still being prescribed regularly to this group of people often unecessarily where alternative intervention post assessment would be more purposeful, ethical and humane.

    Deborah Crewe
    Learning Disability Student Nurse

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