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Risk of death from sedation drugs

9th January 2009

A study has called into question the "commonplace prescribing" of sedative drugs to dementia patients in the UK.

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A study by King's College London reported that people given the drugs over a long period had double the danger of dying early.

It is thought that in the UK around 100,000 dementia patients in care homes are given the drugs to prevent them becoming aggressive or agitated.

The study, which has been published in The Lancet, looked at 165 patients with Alzheimer's disease who were treated in care homes in Oxfordshire, Tyneside, London and Edinburgh.

For one year the researchers observed patients who carried on taking anti-psychotic medication or were given a placebo.

The study showed that significantly more patients died on the medication than those who took the placebos - 46% died on medication in comparison to 71% on the placebo.

After three years, less than one third of those taking medication were still alive in comparison to almost two-thirds who were not taking the drugs.

The study's head Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said medication could be helpful "for short periods" in patients who were extremely aggressive.

"But the serious concerns of the drugs shown by our research emphasise the urgent need to put an end to unnecessary and prolonged prescribing."

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said the study was a "wake-up call".

"We must avoid the use of these drugs as a potentially dangerous 'chemical cosh' to patients who would be better off without it."

 

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