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Overuse of antipsychotic drugs contributing to premature deaths

A UK dementia expert has warned a Sydney audience of the impact of overprescribing antipsychotic medication for behaviour control in dementia patients.

Hundreds of Australian dementia sufferers are dying unnecessarily each year because of the overuse of antipsychotic drugs, an international health expert has warned.

Professor Sube Banerjee, a dementia expert from King's College London, estimated around 700 dementia patients were dying prematurely every year in Australia because antipsychotic drugs were being overused by health professionals to treat the illness.

Addressing an Alzheimer's Australia seminar in Sydney yesterday, he said health systems worldwide were "failing people with dementia" by overprescribing antipsychotic drugs for behaviour control in patients.

The prescriptions were continuing, he said, despite increasing concern about the practice.

"You've got about 280,000 people with dementia in Australia and that equates to about 700 deaths per year if you're using your drugs at the same levels that we are in the UK," Banerjee said.

"The information...makes it very clear that you're doing at least that."

He said in the United Kingdom around 1800 dementia patients died each year directly as a result of reactions to antipsychotic drugs.

Earlier, the seminar heard that more than 1 million prescriptions for antipsychotic medications were made last year for people over 67.

There were 4 million prescriptions written for antidepressants for those over 67.

This year's federal budget contained $268 million over five years to assist the 1.5 million Australians living with dementia.

But the seminar was told more was needed to be done to address an increasing dementia burden among Australia's aging population.

UNSW dementia expert, Henry Brodaty, said there were less risky ways to treat the behavioural symptoms of dementia like wandering and swearing than by simply prescribing antipsychotics.

These included animal-assisted therapy, humour therapy and having patients live in small groups, Brodaty said.


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