150,000 dementia sufferers being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs unnecessarily
Only around 36,000 of the 180,000 people on the drugs in the UK derive any benefit from them, it said. Overprescribing of the drugs is linked to an extra 1,800 deaths a year among elderly people.
Anti-psychotic medicines are licensed to treat people with schizophrenia and are used off-licence for dementia patients in care homes and hospitals.
In his review, Sube Banerjee, professor of mental health and ageing at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said the rate of use of anti-psychotic drugs could be cut to one third of its current level with appropriate action.
Jeremy Wright, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia, called for more training to be given to care home staff and for greater involvement of the patient’s family and friends over the decision on whether to prescribe.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We need to give people other ways of avoiding the problem and that means making sure staff who work in care homes are properly trained in dementia.
“We need to involve family members and friends and loved ones much more in the decision to prescribe and the decision to keep prescribing these drugs.”
He added: “If we can deal with training, if we can deal with regular reviews and if we can involve family and friends much more often, we will start to reduce the incidence of this very widespread over-prescription.”
Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the National Care Homes Association, said the blame did not lie solely with care homes.
She explained it was GPs who made the decision to prescribe dementia sufferers with anti-psychotic drugs.
She told the programme: “One of the things we need to get absolutely clear here is these drugs are prescribed by general practitioners, they are not prescribed by the care home providers. This is about medical conditions which are obviously reviewed by GPs.
“We have clients who come into our homes, sometimes already on these drugs and actually very good providers do tend to use their initiative and try to manage the conditions and wean people off drugs.
“Very often what happens is that GPs are just not giving us enough time in our services to come and review the medication and people can be on this medication and once they’re on it, people, quite rightly, are reluctant to take them off.”
She also rejected claims that some care home providers sedate dementia sufferers as it makes them easy to manage.
There are around 700,000 people with dementia in the UK. That figure is expected to soar in the coming decades as life expectancy lengthens.
Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: “It’s critical that the dangers of wrongly-prescribed anti-psychotics are understood and Government action is taken to prevent putting more people at risk.
“Alzheimer’s Research Trust scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry are investigating alternative safer means of reducing agitation among dementia patients.
“We must urgently develop safe and effective treatments for people with dementia.
“Unless researchers develop new treatments, within a generation 1.4 million people will live with dementia in the UK alone.”
Paul Burstow, a Liberal Democrat MP who has led a 10-year campaign highlighting the risks of over and inappropriate prescribing, said: “This review comes much too late for thousands of elderly people whose lives have been cut short by the reckless prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs.
“The evidence that anti-psychotic drugs do more harm than good has been mounting for years. There is next to no benefit for the older person and prolonged prescribing can lead to premature death.