Monday, October 06, 2008

Antipsychotics and the elderly

In my mom's final months at home, she had several days where she was profoundly delusional. On one occasion, she called a meeting with her 'board of directors.' They voted unanimously to fire J., the home caretaker. After the decision was made, Mom became very agitated, following J. around the apartment and insisting that she leave. By this time, Mom was very unsteady on her feet, and falling was a serious danger.

J. slipped into the bathroom and called me from her cell phone. I knew that once Mom slept, she would no longer remember the incident, but, until she did, the situation was untenable. She couldn't stay alone, she'd never calm down as long as J. stayed, and with one slip of the foot, she'd surely fall and break a hip.

This sort of dilemma is not uncommon in older adults with dementia. Per a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine(1), however, darned if you drug and darned if you don't. Mom was a danger to herself in her delusional state, but researchers from the University of Toronto found that the use of antipsychotic drugs during such episodes is associated with a significant risk of real harm.

They compared the incidence of any medical events serious enough to lead to hospitalization or death in elderly persons some of whom had been newly prescribed antipsychotic medications in the previous month. Those who received such drugs were over 3 times as likely to experience such untoward outcomes compared to the old folks who remained drug free. One could argue that the group who required antipsychotic intervention on average was sicker than the control group, but this risk rose 3.2 times with the newer 'atypical antipsychotics' like Resperidal and as much as 3.8-fold higher when older antipsychotic agents such as haldol were used.

The investigators concluded that these drugs should be 'used with caution even when short-term therapy is being prescribed.' Well, I guess so!
(1)Rochon, PA, et al. Antipsychotic therapy and short-term serious events in older adults with dementia. Arch Intern Med. 2008 May 26;168(10):1090-6.

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