Alzheimer's drugs double death
Risk in elderly
from The Associated Press
LONDON January 8, 2009, 07:05 pm ET · Anti-psychotic drugs commonly
used To treat Alzheimer's disease may double a patient's chance of dying
within a few years, suggests a new study that adds To concerns already
known about such medications.
"For the vast majority of Alzheimer's patients, taking these drugs is probably
Not a worthwhile risk," said Clive Ballard, the paper's lead author, of the
Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases at King's College London.
"Would I want To take a drug that slightly reduced my aggression but doubled
my risk of dying? I'm Not sure I would," Ballard said.
The research was published Friday in the medical journal, Lancet Neurology.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia and causes
symptoms including aggression, delusions and hallucinations. Previous
studies have shown anti-psychotic drugs, which can help control the
aggression and hallucinations for a few months raise the risk of death in older
patients with dementia. There are other side effects, including respiratory
problems and stroke.
Ballard and colleagues followed 165 patients aged 67 To 100 years with
moderate To severe Alzheimer's disease from 2001 To 2004 in Britain. Half
continued taking their anti-psychotic drugs, which included Risperdal,
Thorazine and Stelazine. The other half got placebos.
Of the 83 receiving drugs, 39 were dead after a year. Of the 82 taking fake
pills, 27 were dead after a year. Most deaths in both groups were due To
After two years, 46 percent of Alzheimer's patients taking the anti-psychotics
were alive, versus 71 percent of those Not on the drugs. After three years,
only 30 percent of patients on the drugs were alive, versus 59 percent of
those Not taking drugs.
In the United Kingdom and the United States, guidelines advise doctors To
use anti-psychotic drugs cautiously and temporarily. But in many nursing
homes in Europe and North America, up To 60 percent of patients with
dementia are routinely given the drugs for one To two years.
"The drug regimen for any person with Alzheimer's needs To be
personalized," said William Thies of the Alzheimer's Association in the U.S.
Thies was Not connected To the study. "At some points, some people will be
better off with no medication."
Simon Lovestone of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College in London
said psychiatrists should try environmental or behavioral therapies instead of
Experts aren't sure how the anti-psychotics increase patients' risk of dying.
But they think
the drugs could be damaging To the brain and their sedative effects make
patients less able
To exercise and more susceptible To deadly infections.
The study was paid for by the U.K. Alzheimer's Research Trust. Ballard
grants from various pharmaceutical companies which make drugs used To
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