Many Alzheimer’s patients are dying earlier because of sedatives they are being prescribed, according to new groundbreaking research from the Alzheimer's Research Trust.
Results from a five-year project, funded by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and presented at the charity’s conference in Edinburgh, found that the drugs were linked with a significant increase in long-term mortality - with patients dying on average six months earlier.
The investigation by King’s College London researchers found that the sedatives, known as neuroleptics, were associated with a significant deterioration in verbal fluency and cognitive function, and that neuroleptic treatment had no benefit to patients with the mildest symptoms.
Significantly, up to 45% of people with Alzheimer’s disease residing in nursing homes are prescribed neuroleptics as a treatment for behavioural symptoms such as aggression.
Professor Clive Ballard, Professor of Age Related Disorders at King’s College London, and lead researcher on the project, said:
“It is very clear that even over a six month period of treatment, there is no benefit of neuroleptics in treating the behaviour in people with Alzheimer’s disease when the symptoms are mild – specifically when a measure of behavioural disturbance known as the Neuropsychiatric Inventory Score is equal to or less than 14. For people with more severe behavioural symptoms, balancing the potential benefits against increased mortality and other adverse events is more difficult, but this study provides an important evidence base to inform this decision-making process.”
Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said:
“These results are deeply troubling and highlight the urgent need to develop better treatments. 700,000 people are affected by dementia in the UK, a figure that will double in the next 30 years. The Government needs to make Alzheimer’s research funding a priority.
“Only £11 is spent on UK research into Alzheimer's for every person affected by the disease, compared to £289 for cancer patients.”
Janet Carter, from West Yorkshire, whose parents were both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, said: “My father died relatively quickly after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and he was prescribed a neuroleptic drug. My mother, who also has Alzheimer’s, is still alive almost a decade after being diagnosed. She was never given these drugs. I don’t know if what happened to my dad is linked to these findings, but either way I’m very shocked by them.”
This is the largest neuroleptic withdrawal study of Alzheimer's patients and the only long-term one of its type.
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