Nurses are being urged to question the use of antipsychotic drugs for people with dementia after a campaign claimed they result in illness, confusion and unnecessary death.
The Dementia Action Alliance, a coalition of charities and professional bodies including the Royal College of Nursing, estimates up to five dementia sufferers die every day as a result of taking antipsychotic medication they may not need.
Under the banner of the Right Prescription Campaign the alliance is calling for every one of the 180,000 dementia patients currently on antipsychotics to have their prescription reviewed by the end of March 2012.
Alzheimer’s Society head of policy Andrew Chidgey said nurses were “vitally important” if the ambitious target was to be achieved.
“Nurses are the people who are very involved in caring for people with dementia and are often in a position where they can see people being prescribed antipsychotic drugs and question whether it’s appropriate,” he said.
“People with dementia become aggressive and agitated in hospital and care homes. Nurses can play a really important role in making sure people are well supported in that environment so those symptoms don’t occur.”
Mr Chidgey said antipsychotics, such as Rispiradone, were often prescribed when patients suffered particularly severe symptoms. However, patients were then left on such drugs for “months and months”.
Research has shown antipsychotics to increase the risk of stroke and almost double the risk of early death when taken over a prolonged period.
Other side effects associated with the drugs include dehydration, chest infections, ankle oedema and deep vein thrombosis while they can also increase the symptoms of dementia and cause dizziness and unsteadiness which may lead to falls.
Mr Chidgey added: “They can have a sedative effect and cause mobility problems which leads to falls and fractures.
“People with dementia are already finding it very difficult to understand the world around them; having drugs that will increase their sense of confusion can make that even more difficult.
“Nurses can make sure patients have their prescriptions reviewed.”
The campaign has published a best practice guide for health professionals which is available online at www.alzheimers.org.uk/antipsychotics.