Antipsychotics and Parkinson's Early Death Risk
But it's unclear whether the medications or the disease are the key factor; study only showed an association
By Randy Dotinga
TUESDAY, March 22, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that Parkinson's patients who are given antipsychotics to treat dementia and psychosis may be more likely to die early.
However, the medications provide important benefits and the study authors aren't suggesting that these patients stop taking them. And it's still not clear exactly why there seems to be an increased risk of early death.
"This [study] does not necessarily answer whether the drugs themselves lead to more deaths, or if it's instead the reasons they were prescribed," said Dr. Mark Baron, interim director of Virginia Commonwealth University's Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center. He wrote a commentary accompanying the new study.
Antipsychotic drugs, despite their name, are used to treat a variety of mental conditions other than psychosis, including anxiety and dementia.
As many as 60 percent of long-term Parkinson's patients are thought to develop psychosis. And, the number who develop dementia -- often in the late stages of illness -- is believed to be as high as 80 percent, the study authors noted. Antipsychotics are commonly used to treat both conditions in Parkinson's patients.
The study focused on nearly 7,900 Parkinson's patients in the Veterans Affairs system who took antipsychotics (mostly all men, with an average age of 76). The researchers compared them to roughly 7,900 Parkinson's patients in the VA system who didn't take the drugs.
The drugs included older "typical" antipsychotics, such as haloperidol (Haldol) and chlorpromazine hydrochloride (Thorazine), along with more modern "atypical" antipsychotics, such as risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa) and quetiapine (Seroquel). The modern drugs were used much more commonly in these Parkinson's patients.
The investigators found that those who took antipsychotics were more than twice as likely to die over six months as those who didn't. Those who took the older typical antipsychotics (especially Haldol) were at highest risk. The study didn't pinpoint the risk of death for those who didn't take the drugs.
While the study focused almost entirely on men, the researchers said the experiences of women would probably be the same.