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Posted: July 29, 2008

Agitated Dementia Patients Endangered by Anti-Psychotic Drugs: Study

Dementia patients, who become increasingly agitated and delusional as the condition progresses, are often prescribed anti-psychotic drugs as a way to calm them, but a new Canadian study says those patients are up to three times more likely to suffer serious adverse effects from the drugs, including death.


As a result, the Toronto-based research team is urging more caution in prescribing these drugs, for which prescriptions are quite common for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

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The research team, from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), also said its findings once again prove the importance of continuing to monitor drug performance and impact after drugs enter the market. This is especially important because drug tests typically do not use the elderly in their clinical evaluations, although they may be the population widely using a drug.


"It gives a real sense of what the impact of this drug could be. That's very important," Dr. Paula Rochon, the lead author of the study, told the Winnipeg Free Press in Manitoba. "We should be very careful about when we prescribe them."


Verbal outbursts and other forms of agitation become more common as dementia progresses. The actions can result in assaults on professional and family caregivers, as well as others in their vicinity. The anti-psychotic drugs are intended to prevent or reduce the frequency of these incidents.


The ICE study involved 40,000 elderly dementia patients, who were monitored between 1997 and 2004. The team studied medical-care and drug-plan data on 20,000 Canadian participants who were still living in their residential community and 20,000 living in nursing homes.


The study findings left little doubt about the drugs’ impact. Community-dwelling dementia patients using drugs that had been on the market for some time were 3.8 times more likely to experience serious events, including death, while those using drugs that entered the market more recently were 3.2 times more likely to suffer such effects. The risk was placed at 2.4 times more likely for those residing in nursing homes.

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