Elderly people are often given anti-psychotic drugs when their behavior problems become too much for doctors or family members to handle. Anti-psychotics have been used since the 1950s to treat people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Over the years, doctors have begun to use the drugs to treat behavior problems that may develop with dementia. The percentage of elderly patients using anti-psychotic drugs increased to 3 percent in 2002, up from 2.2 percent in 1993. Fifteen of seventeen studies of elderly patients suffering from dementia “found a 1.6 to 1.7 fold increase in death rates in those who took the drugs.” Researchers found that conventional antipsychotics, such as Haldol, Loxitane, Mellaril, Thorazine and Trilafon were more likely to cause an early death than the newer atypical antipsychotic drugs, Zyprexa, Abilify, Risperdal and Seroquel.
Dr. Sudeep Gill, Assistant Professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada is quoted as saying “I suspect this is because older patients are more vulnerable to adverse effects, since they much more often have underlying heart disease and problems swallowing, and the antipsychotic drug effects are the ‘last straw’ that precipitates a lethal event.” His colleague, Dr. James S. Goodwin, director of the Sealy Center on Aging at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston adds “there is a class of demented patients with real bad behavioral problems, like striking other residents in a nursing home, where antipsychotics might be the lease bad solution.”
Find more about dementia from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.