Many people living with dementia in aged care facilities are taking antipsychotic drugs for longer than 200 days – more than twice as long as the maximum recommended time, researchers say.
The Macquarie University study found about 38 per cent of Australian aged care residents with dementia were taking antipsychotic medication, the same as a worldwide estimate.
The researchers said antipsychotics were often used for longer than recommended, warning current guidelines and restrictions may be insufficient to limit the use of the medication.
“Our research shows that people with dementia are on antipsychotic medication for roughly twice as long as the recommended maximum time to treat behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia,” lead author Kimberly Lind said.
The research showed 65 per cent of aged care residents being treated with antipsychotics remained on the medication for longer than the recommended maximum 12 weeks.
The average duration was 216 days (30.9 weeks) for men and 212 days (30.3 weeks) for women, the study by the university’s Australian Institute of Health Innovation found.
The Council on the Ageing demanded action on the overuse of antipsychotic drugs, saying the study revealed one-in-three aged care residents with dementia were being “chemically restrained”.
“This appalling use of chemical restraints is a form of elder abuse, and a breach both of aged care quality standards and medical professional ethics,” COTA Australia CEO Ian Yates said on Wednesday.
“It’s time for the medical and aged care sectors to acknowledge the findings of this study and seek a solution that does not involve unnecessarily drugging our older Australians to make their jobs easier.”
Dr Lind said aged care facilities should be supported in efforts to use methods other than medication to care for people with dementia, combined with effective medication management.
“Maximising the use of information in electronic health records would assist aged care providers to monitor medication use patterns to ensure patients are not on medication longer than recommended and put at risk of stroke,” she said.
The study examined health and medication records for 5800 aged care residents with dementia in NSW and the ACT, noting most of those taking antipsychotics were on the medications when they entered the facility.