Antipsychotic drugs may be prescribed to dementia patients to ease behavioral problems as well as protect caregivers, loved ones and patients themselves. A new study has, however, revealed that the medication can increase dementia patients' risks of dying early.

For the new research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry on Wednesday, Donovan Maust from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, together with colleagues, looked at the data of almost 91,000 American veterans who were more than 65 years old and had dementia.

The researchers compared the data of the patients who had psychiatric medication with those who had not taken the behavior-calming drugs, and the findings revealed that those who took antipsychotics had increased odds of dying early. The researchers also found that in subjects who took the newer and more commonly used antipsychotic drugs, the risks of early death increased with dose.

"The absolute effect of antipsychotics on mortality in elderly patients with dementia may be higher than previously reported and increases with dose," Maust and colleagues wrote in their study.

The researchers also examined other psychiatric drugs and found that the odds of death linked with the mood stabilizer valproic acid are comparable with that of antipsychotic drugs. Maust and colleagues likewise found that the risk of deaths among patients who were treated with antipsychotics or valproic acid was higher compared with those who did not take medications for treating dementia-related behavioral problems.

"The harms associated with using these drugs in dementia patients are clear, yet clinicians continue to use them," Maust said. "That's likely because the symptoms are so distressing. These results should raise the threshold for prescribing further."

The researchers said that their findings do not mean that drugs should not be used to minimize distress among dementia patients and their loved ones, but healthcare providers and the patients' loved ones should understand the risks associated with the use of the drug particularly because it involves raised odds of premature death.

A federal government report revealed that a third of seniors suffering from dementia who had long-term stay in nursing homes in 2012 were given antipsychotic drugs. In the same year, about 14 percent of patients with dementia living in the community were prescribed the drugs.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that the use of antipsychotics raises the risks of cardiovascular issues and early death in patients suffering from dementia.

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