LONDON — Antipsychotic drugs commonly used to treat Alzheimer's disease may double a patient's chance of dying within a few years, suggests a 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."
The research was published today in the medical journal Lancet Neurology.
Previous studies have shown that antipsychotic drugs, which can help control the aggression and hallucinations in Alzheimer's patients for a few months, raise the risk of death in older patients with dementia.
Ballard and colleagues followed 165 patients aged 67 to 100 with moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease from 2001 to 2004 in Britain. Half continued taking their antipsychotic 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 were due to pneumonia. After two years, 46 percent of Alzheimer's patients taking the antipsychotics were alive, versus 71 percent of those not on the drugs.
Experts think the drugs could be damaging to the brain and that their sedative effects make patients less able to exercise and more susceptible to infections.