A new UK study has found that anti-psychotic drugs, such as (Melleril), chlorpromazine (Largactil), haloperidol (Serenace), trifluoperazine (Stelazine) and risperidone (Risperdal), are bad for patients with Alzheimer’s disease – the drugs were found to make their condition worse.

The researchers, from Kings College London and the Universities of Oxford and Newcastle, found that neuroleptics undermined Alzheimer’s patients’ verbal skills, and offered most patients with mild symptoms of disturbed behavior no long-term benefit. In fact, they found that a deterioration in verbal skills happened within six months of taking the medications. Neuroleptics are drugs used for treating schizophrenia as well as some other serious mental illnesses.

In this study, researchers looked at 165 Alzheimer’s patients from four different nursing homes in Oxfordshire, Newcastle, Edinburgh and London. Approximately 60% of UK Alzheimer’s patients are given medications to control their often aggressive behavior. There are indications that neuroleptics may also up the death rates of Alzheimer’s patients.

You can read about this study in the Public Library of Science Medicine.

All the 165 patients had started on neuroleptics and had been on them for three months before the study started. Half of them continued on them for another 12 months while the others were switched to a placebo.

“It is very clear that even over a six-month period of treatment, there is no benefit from neuroleptics in treating the behavior in people with Alzheimer’s disease when the symptoms are mild. For people with more severe behavioral symptoms, balancing the potential benefits against adverse effects is more difficult,” said team leader Professor Clive Ballard.

Many experts are saying that in light of this study neuroleptics should only be used long-term for dementia patients who have severe behavioral problems, after other treatments have failed.

Neil Hunt, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Society (UK), wrote –

“The overprescribing of antipsychotics to people with dementia is robbing people of their quality of life and is a serious breach of human rights. Paul Burstow MP’s report illustrates the scale and severity of the important issue.

Inappropriate use of antipsychotics in people with dementia can cause devastating side effects, such as excessive sedation, parkinsonism symptoms, accelerated cognitive decline and an increased risk of stroke. This abuse has got to stop.

Antipsychotics have got to stop being a quick fix. There are over 700,000 people with dementia in the UK and more than half of these will experience behavioral symptoms. Alzheimer’s Society research has shown that basic dementia training can help staff deal with behavioral symptoms and reduce the use of antipsychotics drugs by 50 per cent.”

“A Randomised, Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Trial in Dementia Patients Continuing or Stopping Neuroleptics (The DART-AD Trial)”
Clive Ballard, Marisa Margallo Lana, Megan Theodoulou, Simon Douglas, Rupert McShane, Robin Jacoby, Katja Kossakowski, Ly-Mee Yu, Edmund Juszczak, on behalf of the Investigators DART AD
PLoS Med 5(4): e76 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050076
Click here to read the research article online

Written by – Christian Nordqvist