Oct. 17, 2012 -- Extreme agitation, aggressiveness, and psychosis are common among people with Alzheimer's disease -- especially in its later stages -- and they are among the symptoms most often associated with admission to nursing homes.
Antipsychotic drugs are often prescribed to treat these symptoms, but their use remains controversial.
Federal regulators recommend that patients take the drugs for no more than six months, but new research published online today in the New England Journal of Medicine questions the wisdom of abruptly stopping treatment.
People with Alzheimer’s whose symptoms improved while taking the antipsychotic drug risperidone (Risperdal) had a high risk for relapsing when taken off the medication.
The study suggests that the common practice of arbitrarily ending treatment after a few months may cause harm to patients, says researcher D.P. Devanand, MD, of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University.
“Antipsychotic drugs don’t work for all patients,” Devanand says. “But for those who do respond, it is important to use caution and watch for relapses when they are taken off them.”