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Antipsychotics cause dementia deaths

Inappropriate use of antipsychotics in dementia patients causes 1,800 deaths each year, says independent report

Around 150,000 people in the UK with dementia are being inappropriately prescribed antipsychotics, resulting in 1,800 deaths each year, according to an independent review.

There are numerous serious side effects associated with the use of antipsychotics in the treatment of dementia. The drugs double the risk of death, triple the risk of stroke and accelerate cognitive decline, as well as diminishing quality of life by leaving patients heavily sedated.

The review, led by Professor Sube Banerjee of King's College London, accepts that for some patients treatment with antipsychotics would be necessary. However, it stipulates that the drugs should be used only for three months and when the patient is deemed a risk to themselves or others. Banerjee said that of the 180,000 people prescribed antipsychotics each year, just 36,000 benefited.

Care services minister, Phil Hope, has announced a government initiative to reduce use of the drugs. These include:improving access to other types of therapy, such as counselling; better monitoring of prescribing practices; guidance for families explaining what they can do if they are worried about drug use; specialist training in dementia for health; and social care staff and the appointment of a new national director for dementia to oversee the measures.

Banerjee believes the move could cut the number of prescriptions by two thirds. However, the success of the government initiative hinges on services provided by Primary Care Trusts and healthcare professionals, and clear local targets.

Commenting on the review, the Alzheimer's Society stated: “This long awaited landmark review is a welcome recognition of the scale of the issue and the Alzheimer's Society's view that these drugs should only ever be used as a last resort. The scandalous over-prescription of antipsychotic drugs leads to 1,800 deaths a year, it must end.”



12th November 2009


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