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Research leading the way in the fight to reduce antipsychotics for people with dementia

Published 19 July 2011

Front cover of Alzheimer's Society and the Department of Health's new best practice guide 'Optimising treatment and care for people with behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia'.

Three groundbreaking, Alzheimer's Society-supported clinical trials are helping in the fight to reduce the unacceptable levels of inappropriate prescriptions of antipsychotics for people with dementia

Studies into depression and agitation and aggression which were showcased at an Alzheimer's Society symposium at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (ICAD) yesterday (Monday 18 July) will play a key role in helping ensure people with Alzheimer's are on the right treatments. These symptoms can cause significant distress for people with dementia and carers and are often the reason for antipsychotics being prescribed.

The first study, led by National Dementia Strategy for England author Sube Banerjee and published on Lancet online today, found two common antidepressants are not clinically effective for treating significant depression in Alzheimer's. A second study, by Karolinska Institute in Oslo, published on BMJ online yesterday, found agitation levels of people with moderate or severe dementia in care homes who were treated with pain medication were reduced by 17 per cent over eight weeks. The third, by University of East Anglia, found the Alzheimer's drug Ebixa was not beneficial for treating clinically significant agitation in people with later stage Alzheimer's although there was a potential benefit for aggression and it did improve cognition.

These findings have helped shape Alzheimer's Society and the Department of Health's new best practice guide 'Optimising treatment and care for people with behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia'. The guide, which was launched at the symposium, provides advice to health and social care professionals on how to treat behavioural and psychological symptoms - such as agitation and depression - with the aim of preventing inappropriate prescriptions of antipsychotics. This accompanies a guide on reducing antipsychotic medication for people with dementia and carers, launched by the Dementia Action Alliance as part of its call to action 'The Right Prescription' last month.

Alzheimer's Society is advising anyone concerned about symptoms such as agitation or depression in a person with dementia, or about the prescription of antipsychotics to get in touch with their GP.

Clive Ballard, Director of Research at Alzheimer's Society, said:

'Agitation and depression are not unavoidable symptoms of dementia. There are often underlying causes which need to be identified and treated. This has to be the answer rather than instantly prescribing antipsychotics which can treble the risk of stroke and double the risk of death.'There are currently around 150,000 people with dementia being inappropriately prescribed antipsychotics. Alzheimer's Society is determined to help bring an end to this injustice. Cutting edge research has a vital role to play in this mission. However, dementia research in this country remains drastically underfunded. We must act now.'