Powerful antipsychotic drugs can double the risk of death in Alzheimer's patients, according to one of the first independent studies not paid for by a drug company.
The drugs are routinely given to Alzheimer's and dementia patients while in hospital or nursing homes as a quick way to sedate them - even though they are not supposed to be used for this purpose.
While the drugs, known as atypical antipsychotics, can help calm the patient in the immediate term, symptoms such as chest infections, decline in brain function, stroke - and even death - start to appear within weeks.
According to a new study from King's College, London, only half the patients taking an antipsychotic were still alive compared to those given a placebo, and the margin widened by the third year by which time just 30 per cent of those taking antipsychotics were living compared to 59 per cent on the placebo.
Lead researcher Dr Clive Ballard has called for an immediate end to "unnecessary and prolonged prescribing" of antipsychotics among Alzheimer's and dementia patients.
(Source: The Lancet Neurology, 2009; doi: 10.1016/51474-4422(08)70295-3).