Antipsychotic Drugs May Increase Risk of Death in Alzheimer's Patients

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British researches have found that older Alzheimer's disease patients whose aggression was treated with antipsychotic drugs appear to have a significantly higher risk of dying prematurely.

The study was published in the journal Lancet Neurology. Over the three-year period of the study, men and women given a placebo were 42 percent less likely to die than people who remained on their antipsychotic medication.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, progresses over time, and is currently incurable. It affects 26 million people globally according to the Alzheimer's association.

Antipsychotic drugs are often used to treat the personality changes and aggression associated with the disease. The study's data suggest that clinicians should try to replace antipsychotics with safer management approaches when possible.

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"Our opinion is that there is still an important but limited place for atypical antipsychotics in the treatment of severe (symptoms), particularly aggression," the researchers wrote.

"However, the accumulating safety concerns ... emphasize the urgent need to end unnecessary and prolonged prescribing."

The study carried out between 2001 and 2004. 128 patients aged from 67 to 100 years were assigned to continue their antipyschotic treatment for 12 months or switched to a placebo. After three years, the survival was 58% in the placebo group compared to 30% in the patients treated with drugs.

The drugs included the generic treatments thioridazine, chlorpromazine, haloperidol, trifluorperazine and Johnson & Johnson's Risperdal, or risperidone.

While this is an important study, that suggest the need to find other ways to help such patients, it is important to remember that the study is small. It does highlight the need to develop and evaluate alternative treatments for behavioral symptoms in dementia.

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