A study involving more than 75,000 people claims to have found more evidence that the risk of early death can be increased if dementia patients are prescribed “chemical cosh” drugs.
Critics have argued that anti-psychotic drugs are given to older patients in care homes and hospitals as a way to sedate them and make them easier to look after rather than for any medical benefits.
A Harvard Medical School team carried out the study among nursing home residents in the US aged 65 and older, and discovered that haloperidol increased the risk that a patient would die.
The research, published in the British Medical Journal, found that haloperidol had about double the risk of death compared with those using risperidone while patients on another drug, quetiapine, had a lesser chance of dying.
“The data suggest that the risk of mortality with these drugs is generally increased with higher doses and seems to be highest for haloperidol and least for quetiapine,” the study concluded.
Researchers said that not all anti-psychotic medication carries the same risk of death but that doctors may want to consider the evidence when prescribing the drugs.
A government-commissioned review in 2009 found 180,000 people with dementia were prescribed antipsychotics, of which 144,000 were given them inappropriately.
The drugs have been dubbed a “chemical cosh” due to their effects and are thought to contribute to the premature deaths of 1,800 patients a year.