Living with dementia magazine August/September 2013

Considering antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs for people with dementia

Antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs are sometimes prescribed for people with dementia to deal with behaviours that challenge. It's important to consider all options and to be mindful of side-effects.


'Could antipsychotic or antidepressant drugs be a good idea for my father, who has dementia and has been agitated and sometimes aggressive?'

Dementia can cause behavioural and psychological changes that may be challenging for all involved. These are common and can develop as dementia progresses.

It is important to remember that the person with dementia is not behaving in this way deliberately and may be distressed by the symptoms and their effects.

Antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs in dementia

Before medication is considered it is important for the person to be assessed by their GP, as an infection or constipation may be causing their symptoms. It can also be helpful to keep a 'diary' of the symptoms because this might reveal aspects of their environment or care that are causing problems. In many cases, addressing a person's unmet needs avoids the use of medication.

Types of medication

The doctor should talk to the person with dementia and carer about their problems before offering any medication.

Antipsychotic drugs are sometimes used to alleviate behaviours that challenge, though they should only be offered after all other options have been considered and only for up to 12 weeks. They may be prescribed for people with Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia or mixed dementia. For dementia with Lewy bodies, these drugs should be prescribed with the utmost care as they can cause quite severe adverse reactions.

Some studies have found that antidepressant drugs may also be effective in dealing with these symptoms by reducing agitation and helping with apathy, which is very common in dementia.


As with any medication there may be side-effects and it is important to let your doctor know about any that your father experiences.

See more information on unusual behaviour in dementia.

Access our factsheet Drugs used to relieve behavioural and psychological symptoms in dementia (408) or call 0300 303 5933 to order a copy.

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