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AARP Study: Antipsychotic Use In Older Adults Is Up Among Those Outside Nursing Homes

Last month, AARP released a study about the use of antipsychotic drugs in older adults with dementia. It found these drugs are increasingly being used outside nursing homes, despite the increased risk of death.

Antipsychotics like Seroquel or Haldol are often used to treat behavioral or psychological symptoms related to dementia. Behaviors could include agitation, hallucinations or aggression. The study looked at insurance claim data from 2012 to 2015.

"And I found that the rates were increasing albeit slightly by 6 percent over that time period," Elizabeth Carter, the author of the study who is with AARP said.

She can’t say why the numbers are up. 

"But anecdotally," said Carter, "I’ve heard some physicians prescribe these drug to satisfy family members or to appease them and make them feel like doing something to help the family members."

Dr. William Burke is with the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.

"I think our education of physicians in general about dementia and particularly about behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia has not been very good," he said.

Burke said he and his colleagues do utilize these drugs, but selectively, because the reality for many caregivers is that there are not always very good treatments.

"There are certain behaviors and certain psychological symptoms of dementia that we don’t have very good treatments for," he added.

The study also found use of antipsychotics as higher among women than men, and adults 75 and older were more likely than those ages 65-74 to have a prescription. 

KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.