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

Published 19 July 2011

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.'


About the research:

'Study of the use of anti-depressants for depression in dementia: the HTA-SADD Trial - a multicentre randomised double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of the clinical effectiveness of sertaline and mirtazapine' by Sube Banerjee et al. Based on 326 participants with probable Alzheimer's and depression. Found sertraline and mirtazapine were not clinically effective for significant depression and there are harms associated with their use.

'Efficacy of treating pain to reduce behavioural disturbances in residents of nursing homes with dementia: cluster randomised clinical trial' by Dag Aarsland et al. Based on 352 care home residents with moderate to severe dementia and clinically significant behavioural disturbances.

'Efficacy of Memantine for Agitation in Alzheimer's dementia: a randomised double-blind placebo controlled trial' by Chris Fox et al. Based on 153 people with Alzheimer's Disease and clinically significant agitation from care homes or wards. Found that Memantine (Ebixa) did not have statistically significant results for reducing agitation. 


Notes to editors:


  • One in three people over 65 will die with dementia
  • Alzheimer's Society research shows that 750,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia, more than half have Alzheimer's disease. In just ten years a million people will be living with dementia. This will soar to 1.7 million people by 2051 
  • Alzheimer's Society champions the rights of people living with dementia and the millions of people who care for them 
  • Alzheimer's Society works in England, Wales and Northern Ireland 
  • Alzheimer's Society supports people to live well with dementia today and funds research to find a cure for tomorrow. We rely on voluntary donations to continue our vital work. You can donate now by calling 0845 306 0898 or visiting 
  • Alzheimer's Society provides a National Dementia Helpline, the number is 0845 300 0336 or visit

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