Big drop in antipsychotic drug use for dementia patients

The number of people with dementia prescribed antipsychotic drugs by GPs halved between 2008 and 2011 but large regional variations persist, finds research for government.

The number of people with dementia given antispychotic drugs fell 52% from 2008-11, but there are big regional variations in prescriptions of the drugs, which have been found to have adverse effects including death.

The proportion of dementia patients prescribed antipsychotics fell from 17.05% in 2006 to 6.8% in 2011, found an audit carried out by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

The news shows that the government has had some success in its efforts to reduce prescriptions of antipsychotic drugs for people with dementia by two-thirds by November 2011 from 2009 levels. A review for the previous government found two-thirds of antipsychotic prescriptions for people with dementia may be inappropriate, and that the drugs were responsible for an additional 1,800 deaths per year among the client group.

The research found that among people newly diagnosed with dementia, antipsychotic prescriptions fell from 14.25% to 4.46% from 2006-11. However, prescription rates on diagnosis in 2011 varied from about 2% in the North East to about 12% in the North West.

“We welcome the fall in prescriptions of antipsychotic drugs for people with dementia but we are concerned about the wide regional variations,” said the Mental Health Foundation’s head of development and later life, Toby Williamson. “This strongly indicates that some areas are still inappropriately over-prescribing.”

Alzheimer’s Society also welcomed the fall in prescriptions, saying it was a credit to doctors, nurses and care workers and the campaigning of the charity and others. However, chief executive Jeremy Hughes added: There are still tens of thousands more people – both diagnosed and undiagnosed – having their lives put at risk by these drugs and some parts of the country are failing to reach the mark. Now is the time to move from fourth gear to fifth to ensure everyone’s prescriptions are reviewed and that only those people who benefit are kept on antipsychotics. They must only be a last resort.”

About the research

The centre received information from 3,850 GP practices – 45.7% of the total – who submitted information about 196,695 patients between December 2011 and February 2012.

The centre said one of the limitations of the research was that it collected data from primary care settings only, excluding people with dementia who were being treated by specialist or community services.

Mithran Samuel is Community Care’s adults’ editor.

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