Antipsychotic medications are associated with a higher risk of early mortality when given to patients with dementia, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests. These drugs are often administered to dementia patients, including individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease, if they exhibit aggressive or violent behavior. New findings, however, imply that healthcare professionals may want to exercise caution before prescribing.
The lead author of the study is Donovan Maust, a University of Michigan psychiatrist. He states that antipsychotic medications may be beneficial in some patients with dementia, but they can have serious risks that must be disclosed. “It’s not that drugs should never be used nor does the research minimize the distress among patients and loved ones if those symptoms aren’t addressed.” he said. “When you’re prescribing a medication that’s related to a harm — and that’s mortality — that’s something you really need to think about,”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already warns that antipsychotic drugs can have serious side effects in patients with dementia, and the latest findings only support the use of cautionary practice.
The study was based off medical records of 91,000 veterans over the age of 65. Researchers from the University of Michigan’s Medical School and VA Center for Clinical Management Research used this data to compare mortality death rates between patients taking antipsychotic drugs for dementia to those who did not. Overall, patients taking haloperidol had a 3.8 percent increased risk of death compared to patients not taking any type of antipsychotic drug. Those who took olanzapine had a 2.5 percent increased risk.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that in 2012, antipsychotic medications were prescribed to 35 percent of older nursing home residents with dementia; 14 percent of dementia patients outside of nursing homes were prescribed antipsychotic drugs that same year.