Should Alzheimer’s Patients Be Given Antipsychotic Drugs?

antipsychotic drugs alzheimer'sMany caregivers face the important question of whether to allow their loved one with Alzheimer’s disease to be given antipsychotic medications. The benefit of such drugs (like Abilify, Haldol, Zyprexa, Risperdal, and Seroquel) are that they reduce anxiousness, aggressive behavior, and agitation in those who have different forms of dementia. Almost all patients will experience these symptoms at some point, especially in the later stages of the disease. On the other hand, these medications come with some frightening side effects: incontinence, dizziness, confusion, and a hampered ability to speak or move, to name a few.

The medicine can help to make a caregiver’s job easier and reduce their stress. This is of course not a trivial concern: if their loved one is less agitated, a caregiver in turn may be able to provide better care.

However, adding one more pill to any senior’s drug regimine may cause unpredictable problems. The FDA warned in 2005 that the use of antipsychotic medications by those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia may result in as much as double the chance of sudden death. Patients who are taking these drugs must be watched carefully.

If your loved one is already taking these drugs, though, you may not want to take them off. Researchers recommend that seniors who respond to Risperdal keep on taking the drug.

But as far as starting these medications go, the general policy is that they should only be used as a last resort. It’s estimated that in as many as two-thirds of cases, the use of these medicines is inappropriate. Use behavioral strategies to cope with anxiety and acting out instead. You may want to try giving simple acknowledgement to your loved one’s experiences, even if you know that they differ from what the rest of us would consider reality. Avoid correcting them or arguing with them. Or simply try to distract your loved one with an enjoyable activity.

Also consider that the aggression and anxiety that these medicines are supposed to treat is a sign that your loved one needs something that they’re not getting. Instead of providing them with that thing, the medicine simply masks the symptoms. One tip is to respond to the emotion, not to the behavior. Look underneath their actions.

Of course, the most important advice to consider when making any decision regarding antipsychotic drugs is that of your loved one’s doctor. They can help you weigh the pros and cons for your particular situation.