Alzheimer's patients taking antipsychotic drugs face a much higher risk of mortality than their counterparts who do not, according to new research published in the January 9 edition of Lancet Neurology. The findings are based on a study of 165 Alzheimer's patients in residential care in the U.K. between October 2001 and December 2004. Of the 165 that were being treated with antipsychotics, 83 continued treatment and 82 were withdrawn from the meds and given oral placebos. Those antipsychotic treatments included thioridazine, chlorpromazine, haloperidol, trifluoperazine and or risperidone.
Although antipsychotics are commonly used to treat symptoms of agitation, delusions and aggressive behavior, researchers questioned their use after concluding that the drugs doubled the risk of death over 3 years. The impact on survival rates became increasingly evident over time, with 12-month survival rates dropping from 70 percent for the antipsychotic-treated patients and 77 percent for the placebo group to 46 percent for the antipsychotic-treated patients versus 71 percent for those on the placebo at 24 months. After three years, less than one third of people that were prescribed antipsychotics were alive, compared to nearly two thirds of those on the placebo.
"The results further highlight the need to seek less harmful alternatives for the long-term treatment of behavioural symptoms in Alzheimer's patients," said lead study author, Dr. Clive Ballard of King's College London. "At the moment, there is still a limited place for antipsychotics in the treatment of Alzheimer's, particularly severe aggression, but the serious concerns of the drugs shown by our research emphasise the urgent need to put an end to unnecessary and prolonged prescribing".