In research presented today at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2016, a team based in New South Wales, Australia, has shown how non-drug approaches to manage behavioural symptoms can reduce the use of antipsychotic drugs.
In 2009, a study from King’s College London and funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, highlighted the long-term dangers associated with the use of antipsychotic drugs to treat symptoms such as severe anxiety and agitation in people with dementia. The Australian project, called ‘Halting Antipsychotic use in Long Term care’ (HALT), used nurse training and non-drug, person-centered approaches to help reduce the use of antipsychotics in over 100 long-term dementia care residents who were regularly prescribed the drugs. Of those participants who started the study, around 86% had their antipsychotic treatment stopped and three-quarters of those remained off the drugs six months later. Using available data, the team found that over 60% of the participants were prescribed antipsychotics after being admitted to long-term care.
Hilary Evans, Chief Executive at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“It’s shocking to see that as many as 60% of people in this study were given antipsychotics after entering long-term care. Important UK research, supported by Alzheimer’s Research UK, highlighted the dangers of long-term antipsychotic use in people with dementia back in 2009, and in recent years we’ve seen a welcome drive to reduce their use in this country. It’s promising to see that alternative approaches are being successfully delivered to help people with dementia to manage distressing symptoms like hallucinations, agitation and aggression, without the need for antipsychotic drugs. While there may be occasions where short-term use of these drugs is in a person’s best interest, we know that small changes in a person’s environment or care can have a huge impact on their wellbeing and assessing these factors should always be the first-line approach. With two in three people in care homes in the UK living with dementia, studies like this provide important lessons about the kinds of effective approaches that could be adopted across the world.”