Caregivers of elderly parents with dementia may have to be wary of their loved ones' antipsychotic drugs. A new study found that four commonly prescribed medicines are unsafe and ineffective for older adults.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Iowa observed the effects of atypical antipsychotics aripiprazole (Abilify), olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Seroquel) and risperidone (Risperdal) on 332 patients over the age of 40. The patients all suffered from psychosis caused by dementia, schizophrenia and post traumatic stress and mood disorders.
In the study's first year, one-third of participants experienced metabolic syndrome, which includes a number of factors -- such as insulin resistance and abdominal weight gain -- which increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. After two years, "nearly a quarter of the patients developed serious adverse effects and just over half developed non-serious adverse effects," according to the study release.
"Our study suggests that off-label use of these drugs in older people should be short-term, and undertaken with caution," Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, director of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UC San Diego, said in a statement. "While there were a few significant differences among the four drugs, the overall risk-benefit ratio for the AAPs in patients over age 40 was not favorable, irrespective of diagnosis and drug."
These four medications are sometimes prescribed to dementia sufferers "off label," that is, not for their intended purpose. More than 3.1 million Americans were prescribed antipsychotics in 2011, according to the New York Times, and hundreds of thousands of those people include elderly patients with dementia. Those with dementia are prescribed antipsychotics to help with some of the behavioral side effects of the disease, such as aggression and agitation.
Antipsychotics have been linked to increased risk of death in elderly in past studies. Yet a recent study found that those with Alzheimer's disease who stop taking Risperdal for agitation and aggression were two times more likely to relapse when put on a placebo than those who continued using the drug. There wasn't a difference between the rate of death or side effects for those who continued taking Risperdal and those on the placebo, the study found.