If you have a loved one who is showing signs of dementia, and you don’t quite know how to deal with the situation, you’re not alone. Many people are placed in the position of having to care for a family member who is experiencing dementia due to Alzheimer’s, aging, or another condition. The loved one’s dementia might be mild or severe, and it could be causing other problems that are making life extremely challenging for him or her. Or, for you.


People in charge of caring for individuals with dementia often don’t know how to improve the condition, because even their doctor’s can’t give a definitive solution. There is no one cause of dementia, which means there’s no single quick fix to the problem. Medical professionals, and their patients, are used to being able to apply a bandage to mend this and have a surgery to heal that. Prescriptions have become a blanket cure for a variety of ailments. Doctors, therefore, are turning to prescription drugs for dementia, but many are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use to treat dementia.[1] Dementia is it’s own problem entirely, but it’s one that has many unknowns and variables associated with it. This means that we need different, and open-minded, solutions to care for those we love who are suffering with dementia.


Antipsychotic Drugs Are Not the Solution


Doctors and in-home nursing staff continue to prescribe antipsychotic drugs for people dealing with dementia. Their motive is to alleviate some of the behavioral issues that go along with the condition, but a new wave of thought is leading some medical professionals to the conclusion that dementia cannot and should not be treated this way. These experts believe that dementia symptoms are caused by environmental factors, which means they must be approached with a change in environment rather than drugs.[2]


The medical professionals who agree on the inability of antipsychotic drugs to help a person with dementia argue that antipsychotics simply mask the real behavioral problems. They state that this is especially true when the drugs are over-prescribed, as is often the case when a person with dementia is not showing signs of improvement.


What are Antipsychotic Drugs?


For individuals who are not in the medical profession, it can be difficult to understand how antipsychotics could possibly work, and why they might not work at all, unless they have a grasp of what the drugs are to begin with. To put it in simple terms, antipsychotic drugs are a type of medication primarily used to manage psychiatric conditions like psychosis. Breaking it down further, dementia is characterized as a type of psychosis, as is bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.


Antipsychotics are mood stabilizers, like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and ADHD drugs, that are forms of psychotropic drugs. These drugs are chemicals that change an individual’s brain function and alter mood, perception, and consciousness. Why are antipsychotics prescribed to people with dementia? Because doctors believe that the drugs can help the condition, and others that fall under the umbrella term psychosis, by making improving the disconnection from reality that psychosis patients suffer with.[3] But, we have to remember that the FDA has not approved the use of antipsychotic drugs for the treatment of psychosis or dementia. These drugs are referred to as “off-label” drugs because they’re not approved to specific treatment and there’s no assurance they’ll work. So, again, why give them?


We Need Better Solutions and More Appropriate Care


When medication is used to treat dementia, instead of turning to a change in environment, the sufferer almost always experiences a decreased quality of life.[4] Drugs typically make a person with dementia even more unresponsive and confused than they were. These individuals are likely to live in a sedated state, further disconnected from reality, and they and their family members are negatively effected in tremendous way.


A 2005 warning by the FDA stated that individuals with dementia, who take antipsychotic drugs, are 1.6 to 1.7 times more likely to experience sudden death than individuals who take placebos.[5] Antipsychotic drugs should be an absolute last resort for people with dementia. This is something that we hope family members of dementia patients can understand and accept. Sometimes, caregivers are so eager to treat their loved one’s condition that they go along with doctors’ plans for antipsychotic drugs. Untrained, and without knowing the severe side effects of the drugs, they deem the medicines appropriate and a quick remedy to get their family member back to living a normal life.


It’s important for family-member caregivers to realize why dementia occurs and why drugs are not a quick fix. We feel it’s crucial that they learn to observe, and identify, dementia behavior and then begin to modify the environment surrounding the sufferer so that antipsychotics are not needed. Even if caregivers don’t have the tools and skills to help, they can assist a person with dementia by hiring someone who does. Sevens Home Care is experienced in helping people with dementia enjoy a life well lived, which means avoiding medication as much as possible. We have a team of professionals who can assist in a comprehensive plan of action for dealing with dementia, which may include other skilled experts, so that a loved one with the condition has appropriate care in the home and assistance with life’s basic needs.


To learn more about how Sevens Home Care can help a family member suffering with dementia, please contact us today.


[1] Good, Mike. “The Overuse of Antipsychotics in Dementia Care.” Next Avenue. N.p., 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.


[2] Good, Mike. “The Overuse of Antipsychotics in Dementia Care.” Next Avenue. N.p., 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.


[3] Good, Mike. “The Overuse of Antipsychotics in Dementia Care.” Next Avenue. N.p., 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.


[4] Good, Mike. “The Overuse of Antipsychotics in Dementia Care.” Next Avenue. N.p., 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.


[5] Good, Mike. “The Overuse of Antipsychotics in Dementia Care.” Next Avenue. N.p., 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.