Dementia Patients Hurt More Antipsychotic Medications: Here's Why

First Posted: Mar 19, 2015 04:14 PM EDT

New findings published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry show that even though antipsychotic drugs may help ease behavioral issues for some dementia patients, it may also send them down a physical health spiral faster.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor looked at data from close to 91,000 American veterans who were over the age of 65 and dealing with dementia.

They compared data on patients who were on psychiatric medication to those who were not. Findings showed that those on antipsychotics or who had been taking them were at an increased risk of dying early. Furthermore, researchers found that newer or more commonly used antipsychotic drugs increased the risk more with each dose.

Researchers also found that other psychiatric drugs, such as the mood stabilizer valproic acid, were linked to an early death.

The findings highlight the distress that's caused by dementia symptoms from the condition and how one-third of adults are suffering from the condition. Yet 2012 estimates show that about one-third of long-term nursing home stays involve some type of these antipsychotic medications.

Researchers note the importance of working with non-pharmacological routes before prescribing these heavy duty medications. Yet it can be a process. 

"The harms associated with using these drugs in dementia patients are clear, yet clinicians continue to use them," said study author Donovan Maust from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, in a news release. "That's likely because the symptoms are so distressing. These results should raise the threshold for prescribing further."

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