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Antipsychotic Use High Among Elderly

Despite serious dangers, study finds increasing use by seniors

The percentage of people receiving an antipsychotic prescription in 2010 was approximately twice as high among those between 80 and 84 years of age as among those between 65 and 69 years of age, according to a team of researchers from Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, and Yale University.

They analyzed prescriptions of haloperidol, pimozide, aripiprazole, and olanzapine from nearly 33,000 retail pharmacies and captured 63% of all retail prescriptions in the U.S. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) funded the study.

Strikingly, about 80% of all antipsychotic prescriptions for adults age 65 and older were off-label, Medical Daily reported. Nearly half of the older adults who had used antipsychotics between 2006 and 2010 had taken the drugs more than 120 days in the year, the researchers found. Across the adult lifespan, women had higher rates of antipsychotic use than men, which the authors of the study attribute to possibly higher rates of depression.

While the number of affected people is small, the concern is great due to the fact that antipsychotics may pose significant health risks to seniors. Specifically, antipsychotic drugs increase the risk of strokes, fractures, kidney injury, and mortality in older adults, while potentially causing the lesser side effects of weight gain and metabolic problems.

"The results of the study suggest a need to focus on new ways to treat the underlying causes of agitation and confusion in the elderly," study author Dr. Mark Olfson, from the College of Physicians and Surgeons and Columbia University in New York City, said in a NIMH news release.

Source: Medical Daily, October 21, 2015; National Institute of Mental Health, October 21, 2015.

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