I advocate against the inappropriate use of antipsychotics in treating people who live with dementia because I have seen first hand the devastating impact these drugs can have.
Sadly, many dementia care partners (including myself) have been forced to turn to medication out of desperation. In order to be be able to make an informed decision, it’s important to know the side effects of the medication in question. Here’s what the Alzheimer’s Organization says:
“The decision to use an antipsychotic drug needs to be considered with extreme caution. Recent studies have shown that these drugs are associated with an increased risk of stroke and death in older adults with dementia. The FDA has labeled the drugs with a “black box” warning about this risk and a reminder that they are not approved to treat dementia symptoms.”
Antipsychotics haloperidol (Haldol), queitapine (Seroquel) and risperidone (Risperdal) carry black box warnings because because they increase the risk of mortality in elderly patients with dementia. Furthermore, research shows these medications are largely ineffective in treating behavioural expressions in people who live with dementia.
Geriatricians worldwide recommend against their use, saying they should only be given as a last resort after all non-pharmacological strategies have been tried. Unfortunately, too many people who live with dementia are still prescribed these drugs which are in the majority of cases both ineffective as well as harmful.
Here are some of the side effects in elderly people from haloperidol, which is marketed under the brand name Haldol:
- increased risk of death
- catatonic-like states
- difficulty with speaking or swallowing
- inability to move the eyes
- loss of balance control
- mask-like face
- muscle spasms, especially of the neck and back
- restlessness or need to keep moving (severe)
- shuffling walk
- stiffness in arms and legs
- tardive dyskinesia
- twisting movements of the body
- weakness of the arms and legs
- nausea / vomiting
- grand mal seizures
- exacerbation of psychotic symptoms including hallucinations
- weight gain
Giving haloperido (Haldol) to people who live with dementia and who may be unable to report the side effects they are experiencing is cruel and in many cases completely unnecessary. Read more about why drugs like haloperidol are still inappropriately prescribed to elderly people who live with dementia.