Use of ‘chemical cosh’ drugs in dementia patients increased by 50 percent during pandemic, study finds

Prescriptions of dangerous ‘chemical cosh’ drugs for dementia patients in care homes rose 50 percent during pandemic, study finds

  • Antipsychotic prescriptions for dementia patients rose during pandemic
  • Rates rose from 18% in 2018 to 28% this year, despite the dangers of the drugs
  • Charities slammed the ‘shocking and dangerous shell’ the drugs are being distributed

Prescribing dangerous ‘chemical cosh’ drugs to dementia-affected nursing home residents has jumped 50 percent during Covid, research found today.

Researchers from the University of Exeter and King’s College London found that home use of antipsychotics rose from 18 percent in 2017 to 28 percent this year.

The sedatives are usually prescribed to schizophrenia patients to help prevent hallucinations.

Dubbed ‘chemical cosh’ for their sedative effects, they have been routinely used in people with dementia to control agitation, despite a supposed government crackdown on the dangers they pose.

Previous research has shown that they have double the risk of premature death and triple the chance of stroke.

Charities slammed the “shocking and dangerous scale” on which the medication is now being distributed to vulnerable residents.

Share of dementia patients prescribed dangerous ‘chemical cosh’ drugs in care homes in Britain increased by 50 per cent during the Covid pandemic, research from the University of Exeter and King’s College London finds today

Today’s figures, presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, show that half of dementia patients in one-third of care homes were prescribed the drugs.

The study data compared more than 700 care home residents who participated in two studies in 2016-17 and 2021-22 in Britain.

‘Intellectually, socially and physically active lifestyle’ may ward off dementia

Learning a new language, volunteering and gardening in middle age are among the activities that may protect against dementia, a study claimed today.

Researchers from Brighton and Sussex Medical School said an “intellectually, socially and physically active lifestyle” can keep the memory-depriving condition at bay.

The study followed nearly 1,200 Britons over their lifetime to see how their habits and education level affected their brain performance in old age.

It was found that those who engaged in at least six brain-stimulating activities throughout their lives had the best cognitive performance in the late 1960s.

Researchers claimed that people who learn new skills, such as the ability to speak French or German, can “prevent cognitive decline and dementia” in their 40s.

Around 900,000 people in the UK are thought to be living with dementia, and this percentage is expected to increase with an aging population. In the US, the figure is about seven times higher, charities say.

A battery of studies has linked continuing to read, write and play games with delaying the onset of the cruel condition for up to five years, simply by keeping the brain healthy.

dr. Richard Oakley, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This study demonstrates the shocking and dangerous scale of the use of antipsychotics to treat people with dementia in care homes.

Alzheimer’s Society has campaigned to move away from the ‘medication first’ model and funded research into alternatives to prescribing antipsychotics aimed at putting people with dementia at the center of their own care.

“This personalized drug-free care can help prevent the loss of life associated with the harmful side effects of antipsychotics.”

The latest NHS data shows that 41,198 of the 447,415 registered dementia patients in England were prescribed antipsychotics in June this year.

Antipsychotics are used to treat some of the more troubling behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, including agitation and psychotic episodes.

They have only very limited short-term benefits in treating psychiatric symptoms in people with dementia.

But they significantly increase the risk of serious side effects, including stroke, accelerated deterioration and death.

Covid posed unprecedented challenges for healthcare facilities, where about 70 percent of residents have dementia.

Some of the challenges nursing homes face included access to personal protective equipment, staff levels, isolation and caring for residents in enclosed conditions.

Professor Clive Ballard, who took part in the national campaign to halve antipsychotic prescriptions in 2009, said people with dementia should be protected from exposure to ‘significant harm’.

He said: ‘Covid put enormous pressure on healthcare facilities, and the majority of them should be applauded for maintaining relatively low antipsychotic prescription levels amid incredibly difficult circumstances.

“However, there was a very significant increase in antipsychotic prescribing in a third of care homes and we urgently need to find ways to prioritize support to prevent people with dementia from being exposed to significant harm.”


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