NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 20, 2005

Elderly patients with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia who are treated with antipsychotic drugs have a higher risk of dying than those given placebos, according to a new analysis of earlier studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers analyzed results of 15 studies involving more than 5,000 elderly dementia patients examining the effects of atypical antipsychotic drugs including Zyprexa, Risperdal, Seroquel and Abilify.

According to researchers:

  • Patients taking atypical antipsychotics had a 54 percent increased risk of death within 12 weeks of starting treatment with medication compared with those taking a placebo.
  • Among 3,353 patients taking the antipsychotic medications, there were 118 deaths, compared with 40 deaths among 1,757 patients taking placebos, or 3.5 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively.

According to Lon Schneider, lead author of the study, atypical antipsychotics might increase the risk of death because they sedate patients and confine them to bed for long periods, increasing the likelihood of developing infections. Most of the deaths in the study were attributed to cardiac problems or respiratory disorders. The drugs studied all had similar risks. Although the antipsychotic drugs have been approved for treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disease, they have not yet been specifically approved for treatment of dementia in elderly patients.

Source: Lon S. Schneider, Karen S. Dagerman and Philip Insel, "Risk of Death With Atypical Antipsychotic Drug Treatment for Dementia: Meta-analysis of Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trials," Vol. 294, No. 15, October 19, 2005.

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