When we think of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, memory loss is the first thing that comes to mind. The idea of not being able to remember past events or even a familiar face is both scary and heartbreaking. While there isn’t a cure for the memory-loss component of the condition, other symptoms of the disease— including anxiety, aggressiveness, wandering and sleepiness—have long been treated with antipsychotic drugs.
The Food and Drug Administration has warned that such drugs increase the risk of death in dementia patients. However, despite the warning, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office,found that 1 in 3 dementia patients in nursing homes receives antipsychotics, versus 1 in 7 dementia patients outside the nursing home.
This is all the more disturbing after a recent study by Dr. Helen Kales, a psychiatrist who directs the University of Michigan's Program for Positive Aging, revealed that antipsychotic drugs are only half as effective than non-drug treatments when it comes to controlling such dementia symptoms.
The study, which was published in the British Medical Journal concluded that a better treatment involved caregiver interventions, wherein they are able to look for triggers of the symptoms.
An article in NPR explains,
…the treatments that showed the best results were the ones that trained caregivers how to communicate calmly and clearly, and to introduce hobbies or other activities for the patient.”
And so it seems that even when it comes to scientific studies, old-fashioned care and compassion often wins out in the end.
Types of Dementia via Alzheimer’s Association
Atypical Antipsychotic Drugs Information via FDA.gov
Helen Kales, MD, PPA Director via Program for Positive Aging