(NaturalNews) The British government is conducting an investigation into the off-label use of antipsychotic drugs to sedate patients with Alzheimer's disease. On February 4, the all-party parliamentary group on dementia heard testimony from patient advocates who criticized the practice.
"Thousands of people with dementia are routinely prescribed dangerous antipsychotic drugs," said Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, "increasing their chance of death and causing distressing side effects such as excessive sedation, motor problems and dizziness."
Antipsychotic drugs such as Largactil, Serenace, Stelazine and Risperdal, originally designed for the treatment of schizophrenia, are now routinely prescribed to Alzheimer's patients in nursing homes to make them more manageable. Yet recent studies have indicated that the use of such drugs provides no benefit to patients, and actually shortens their lives.
A major, long-term study recently found that Alzheimer's patients treated with antipsychotics died an average of six months earlier than those not given the drugs. After only three years of follow-up, two-thirds of the patients on the drugs had died, compared with only one-third of those who were not taking antipsychotics.
The study also found that the antipsychotic drugs increased patients' risk of falls, heart disease and strokes, and accelerated the deterioration of their speaking and thinking abilities.
"The latest research funded by the Alzheimer's Research Trust suggests that most patients with Alzheimer's on long-term antipsychotic treatment would benefit from having the drugs withdrawn," said Harriet Millward, the trust's deputy chief executive.
Antipsychotic drugs have not been licensed for Alzheimer's treatments in the United Kingdom, and are only approved for behavioral disturbances such as agitation, aggression, delusions and disturbed sleep. Government guidelines allow the use of the drugs only when all other non-pharmaceutical treatments have proven ineffective.
Nonetheless, it is estimated that approximately 45 percent of Alzheimer's patients in nursing homes are treated with antipsychotics.