Dementia Death Risk Doubles on Some Antipsychotics
An analysis of tens of thousands of people in nursing homes in the U.S. suggests that residents who take certain antipsychotic drugs for dementia are at about double the risk of dying compared to residents not taking those specific medications.
All the residents in the study, published Friday in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), were over age 65.
The Harvard Medical School study, the largest ever undertaken among U.S. nursing home residents, focused on 75,445 nursing-home residents from 45 states from 2001 to 2005. Their risks of death were looked at during a six-month period.
The study notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned in 2005 that atypical antipsychotic drugs — also known as second-generation antipsychotics —are associated with an increased risk of death in older people with dementia, but it wasn’t know whether the risk depends on the type of drug the person is taking.
n 2008, the FDA expanded that warning to include conventional antipsychotics — also called neuroleptics — a class of drug used to relieve symptoms including hallucinations and delusions, and to calm very aggressive patients.
The Harvard researchers conclude that not all antipsychotic medication carries the same risk of death in older people, and “clinicians may want to consider this evidence when evaluating […] the best approach to treatment of behavioural problems.” They also stress the importance of prescribing such drugs in the lowest possible dose, and closely monitoring patients shortly after they start treatment.
As the population ages, dementia — the progressive deterioration in cognitive function, or the ability to process thought — is becoming a very real concern. The Alzheimer Society of Canada, which is lobbying the Canadian government to create a plan to respond to concerns that more than 500,000 people have Alzheimer’s or other dementia, with that number expected to double by 2038