April 28, 2008
Ministers should step in to stop inappropriate prescriptions of powerful antipsychotic drugs for Alzheimer's patients, an influential group of MPs [Members of Parliament] said today.
Up to 105,000 people with dementia in Britain are wrongly being treated with the drugs, which are used to control behavioural symptoms such as aggression, they claim. Research has shown that the medications have side effects which can accelerate mental decline, triple the risk of stroke, and double the chances of premature death.
They are intended for psychotic patients suffering from delusions, paranoia and hallucinations. Yet the drugs continue to be used as a first resort to address the challenging behaviour of people suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia, according to the MPs. A report from the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on dementia demanded Government action on the problem and urged the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the health watchdog, to carry out a review.
The report, A Last Resort, points out that no audit or regulation of such prescriptions exists. Jeremy Wright, the group's chairman, said: "Antipsychotics can double risk of death and triple the risk of stroke in people with dementia, (can) heavily sedate them, and (can) accelerate cognitive decline.
"The Government must end this needless abuse. Safeguards must be put in place to ensure antipsychotics are always a last resort. We need to include families in decisions, give people with dementia regular reviews, and equip care staff with specialist training."
The inquiry was told that 150,000 people with dementia were prescribed antipsychotic drugs in British care facilities. Psychiatric experts said 70 per cent of these prescriptions were inappropriate.
Neil Hunt, the chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said more than 70 per cent of dementia patients exhibited challenging behaviour.
"More often than not this is an expression of unmet need, not a symptom of dementia, and there is no excuse for reaching for the medicine cabinet," he said.