Some Antipsychotics May Raise Risk of Death in Dementia Patients

Some Antipsychotics May Raise Risk of Death in Dementia PatientsWhen used in place of other antipsychotic drugs, haloperidol (Haldol) raises the risk of death in elderly patients who have previously been diagnosed with dementia, according to the results of a new study, published in a February edition of the British Medical Journal.

HealthDay reports one expert believes the finding could help those providing care to dementia patients.

"This data provides much-needed guidance and reassurance for the ever-increasing number of health care practitioners treating older demented patients," said Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

The study was conducted after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2005 warned that certain antipsychotic drugs could be linked to an increased risk of death in elderly patients with dementia. In 2008, the warning was expanded to include a broader range of antipsychotics.

However, despite FDA action, the study found that the use of these antipsychotic drugs for dementia patients is expected to grow, as the population of elderly patients expands throughout the country, according to Harvard Medical School researchers.

Wolf-Klein agreed with the Harvard officials, stating that safety concerns over the antipsychotics are "leaving primary care physicians, geriatricians, neurologists and psychiatrists in a quandary as they attempt to respond to overwhelmed caregivers dealing with unmanageable behaviors at home. Discussion with family members of the risks and benefits of atypical antipsychotics creates additional stress and burden in an already difficult situation."

To perform the study, the Harvard researchers analyzed data from 2001 to 2005 from more than 75,000 nursing home residents over the age of 65 in 45 facilities across the country. The study looked to find a link between the risk of death and the antipsychotic drugs aripiprazole, haloperidol, olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone and ziprasidone.

During the study, about 6,600 nursing home residents died from causes other than cancer, and those who took haloperidol showed double the risk of death compared to residents who took risperidone.

The researchers concluded that not all antipsychotics raised the risk of death in elderly patients, but doctors "may want to consider this evidence when evaluating… the best approach to treatment of behavioral problems."

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, it is important to speak with a physician about possible dementia symptoms, as the sooner it is discovered, the sooner treatment options can be assessed.