One in four dementia sufferers prescribed dangerous 'chemical cosh' drugs which are only meant as a last resortDoctors prescribing anthipsychotics for over two years'Chemical cosh' drugs are only meant to be taken for maximum three months
More than a quarter of elderly people with dementia are being given dangerous ‘chemical cosh’ drugs, researchers warn.
Doctors are prescribing antipsychotics to patients for two or more years even though they are only meant to be taken for a maximum of three months – and then only as a last resort.
Antipsychotics are tranquillisers that are designed to treat hallucinations in patients with mental illnesses.
Unfair treatment: Campaigners say antipsychotics are 'robbing the elderly of their dignity'
But researchers have found that in most cases they are just being given to sedate elderly patients to stop them from wandering off or becoming confused and anxious.
Campaigners say that too often they are being told by families and carers that such drugs are ‘robbing loved ones of their dignity’, leaving them unable to walk or talk.
Around 770,000 Britons are thought to have some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. But it is not known how many are being given antipsychotics or how long they have been on them.
They were given the chemical cosh nickname because they are used to subdue patients, which makes it easier for hospital and care homes staff to look after them. The Mail has long called for an improvement in the care of dementia sufferers as part of our Dignity for the Elderly Campaign.
Typical antipsychotics given to patients include chlorpromazine, perphenazine, pimozide, clozapine (sold as Clozaril or Denzapine), olanzapine (sold as Zyprexa), paliperidone (sold as Invega) and risperidone (sold as Risperdal). But only risperidone is licensed for dementia – and only then for up to six weeks.
Even though the others are not licensed, doctors are allowed to prescribe them for patients if they think there is a medical benefit.
In the first study of its kind, University of Manchester academics looked at the care and treatment of 994 elderly patients with dementia registered with 53 GP practices in the North-West.
Around 770,000 Britons are thought to have some form of dementia,
including Alzheimer's disease. But it is not known how many are being
given antipsychotics or how long they have been on them
They found that 259 – just over a quarter – were on antipsychotics and on average they had been taking them for nearly two years.
Experts recommend that the drugs should be used for a maximum of three months and only then as a last resort for the treatment of hallucinations.
But according to the study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, only 27 per cent of patients on the drugs were suffering hallucinations. The others were given them for confusion, wandering, agitation or aggression.
And despite doctors being ordered by the Government to carry out ‘medication reviews’ every six months of each patient on antipsychotics, only 57 per cent of those in the study who were taking the drugs had undergone such checks.
Professor Nitin Purandare, one of those who carried out the study, said its findings were almost certainly true of the rest of the country.
‘I wouldn’t have expected that high number,’ he said. ‘It is worrying. We need to only use them if we have to and those people must be monitored regularly and the drugs should be stopped at the first appropriate opportunity.’
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘We want to reduce the level of anti- psychotics prescribing for people with dementia by two-thirds.
‘The national audit of antipsychotics prescribing will report its findings on progress on this later this year.’