Dangerous ‘chemical cosh’ drugs used on dementia patients

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Up to 43,000 dementia patients are being prescribed dangerous ‘chemical cosh’ drugs, official figures show.

Antipsychotics are being given to almost a tenth of adults with dementia, despite a supposed crackdown.

The drugs are tranquilisers which are meant to be prescribed to schizophrenia patients to prevent hallucinations.

They have been dubbed ‘chemical cosh’ due to their sedative effects and have been routinely used on people with dementia to control agitation.

But previous research have found them to be dangerous and they double the risk of early death and treble the chances of stroke.

Antipsychotics are being given to almost a tenth of adults with dementia, despite a supposed crackdown (stock photo)

Antipsychotics are being given to almost a tenth of adults with dementia, despite a supposed crackdown (stock photo)

They also hasten patients’ mental decline and a major government review in 2009 ordered doctors to slash prescriptions by two thirds

But the first official figures on the drugs’ use show they were being given to at least 42,991 adults in a snapshot six weeks in October and November.

This meant that 9.4 per cent of the 458,500 adults in England who had been diagnosed with dementia were taking the pills.

The figures from NHS Digital also highlighted a stark variation in prescription rates across the country raising concerns they are being used inappropriately.

The highest rates were in North East Essex where 16 per cent of patients were given antipsychotics.

By comparison they were given to just 5.2 per cent of patients in Solihull, the West Midlands and 5.5 per cent in Northumberland.

This is the first the NHS has published the figures so it is not possible to determine whether they have fallen or risen compared to recent years.

Charities said the number was lower than ten years ago – but pointed out the pills were still being used far too often.

The first official figures on the drugs’ use show they were being given to at least 42,991 adults in a snapshot six weeks in October and November. Previous research has found them to be dangerous - and that they hasten mental decline (stock photo)

The first official figures on the drugs’ use show they were being given to at least 42,991 adults in a snapshot six weeks in October and November. Previous research has found them to be dangerous - and that they hasten mental decline (stock photo)

The first official figures on the drugs’ use show they were being given to at least 42,991 adults in a snapshot six weeks in October and November. Previous research has found them to be dangerous – and that they hasten mental decline (stock photo)

Dominic Carter, senior policy officer at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘For the vast majority of people with dementia, antipsychotic drugs are an outdated and inappropriate way to treat some of the behavioural symptoms that can be associated with dementia.

‘They can increase risk of death, likelihood of stroke and accelerate cognitive decline, as well as having a profound effect on quality of life, leaving people heavily sedated.

‘This data shows around one in ten people with a diagnosis receive a prescription of antipsychotics, which suggests over the years usage is reducing.

‘However, the stark variation across the country, with some areas having a prescribing rate up to six times higher than others, indicates there is still much to be done to reduce numbers and ensure consistent practice across the board, no matter where people live.

Dr Tony Rao, spokesman for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and consultant old-age psychiatrist, said: ‘That figure may seem high, but I think it is considerably less than ten years ago.

‘A decade ago it was more likely that dementia patients would be treated with antipsychotics for behavioural problems because doctors were less aware of the potentially harmful side-effects.

‘Since then new guidance has been issued for their appropriate use in dementia treatment and prescribing rates have gone down.’





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