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Antipsychotic drugs for dementia

August 1, 2007

Antipsychotic drugs are approved mainly for treating schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but they are also used for many other purposes. One of the most controversial is reducing disruptive behavior among elderly people with dementia. In the last few years, the FDA has required drug labels to carry warnings regarding this still-common practice, and studies continue to raise questions about its risks and benefits, reports the August 2007 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

Concern about this issue is not new. A federal law passed in 1987 provides that residents in facilities receiving government support should not receive antipsychotics for problems that are simply inconvenient for caregivers—such as wandering, insomnia, or uncooperativeness—but only for agitated, aggressive, or psychotic behavior that is distressing to the patients or dangerous to others. But the guidelines have not prevented continued heavy use in institutions for the elderly.

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