Behavioral Therapy Helps More Than Drugs For Dementia Patients : Shots - Health News Non-drug approaches for treating aggression and other symptoms of dementia work better than antipsychotic drugs, a study finds, and are less risky. That includes teaching caregivers how to respond.
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Behavioral Therapy Helps More Than Drugs For Dementia Patients

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Behavioral Therapy Helps More Than Drugs For Dementia Patients

Behavioral Therapy Helps More Than Drugs For Dementia Patients

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

One issue at the end of life, the overuse of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes. Those drugs are used to curb the challenging symptoms of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia. But the FDA says the drugs can be lethal to the very patients they're meant to treat. Now a study in the British Medical Journal finds that antipsychotics are much less effective than treatments that don't use drugs. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: The study examined more than two decades' worth of clinical trials of drug and non-drug treatments for curbing anxiety, wandering and other behaviors that go along with dementia. Actually, University of Michigan psychiatry professor Helen Kales, the lead author of the study, doesn't really like the term non-drug treatment.

HELEN KALES: Because it's named for what it isn't.

JAFFE: Better terms would be behavioral or environmental therapy. The treatments that work are the ones that train caregivers...

KALES: To look for the triggers of the symptoms and when they see the triggers that they train them to manage them.

JAFFE: Kales' study shows antipsychotic drugs to be only about half as effective as non-drug interventions. Antipsychotics can be useful in emergency situation, she says, but their risk of deadly side effects increases over time.

KALES: The number of people that would die if they took the drug over something like a year seems to be in the rate of 10 to 15 percent.

JAFFE: Kales says health care providers use antipsychotics because they haven't been trained in the non-drug approaches, and they're usually not reimbursed for using them. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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