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23,000 care home residents ‘killed by chemical cosh’ of dangerous tranquillisers (daily mail)

1st Apr 2008 | in Social Care

More than 23,000 care home residents with Alzheimer’s are being "killed" each year by "chemical cosh" tranquillisers, an MP warned last night.

Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow said they die early after being given the dangerous psychiatric drugs simply to make life easier for care staff.

It is the first time campaigners have put a figure on the number of dementia patients whose lives are cut short by such medication.

He revealed the number of deaths in a report on the serious side effects of the tranquillisers, which are given to more than 100,000 Alzheimer’s sufferers.

Mr Burstow said nursing homes were failing frail pensioners with behavioural problems by routinely handing out anti-psychotic drugs to control their anger and aggression, even though many were designed to treat schizophrenia-and manic depression, not Alzheimer’s.

Studies have shown they can treble the risk of stroke and double the death rate among users but prescriptions for the over-60s have risen by almost 40 per cent in recent years.

Mr Burstow, whose report is out today, calculated the death rate using research by Professor Clive Ballard, from King’s College, London.

Professor Ballard studied 165 Alzheimer’s patients on sedatives at nursing homes before switching half of them to a placebo.

After three years only a third of patients on the anti-psychotic drugs were alive, compared to two-thirds of those on the fake pills.

Lily Frost came out of hospital ‘like a zombie’

Mr Burstow worked out that 23,500 residents could be dying early each year and said "abusively" prescribing sedatives should be treated legally as assault, ill treatment or wilful neglect.

Last night he urged the police to investigate and said the Government should ban the drugs for those with mild cases of dementia.

He added: "Using drugs to chemically restrain older people with dementia is no different to strapping them to a chair. It is an abuse of their human rights and dignity.

"Inappropriate or abusive prescribing is not just sedating older people it is killing them.

"The law makes it clear - treatment without consent is assault. It is time the police and the courts took abuse of elderly people seriously.

"Despite repeated warnings, ministers have failed to put in place essential safeguards. There should be a ban on anti-psychotic drugs in all but the most severe cases of dementia.

"There are human alternatives, they demand more training and support but they work."

Another study today says dementia patients taken off the drugs were no more aggressive than those who stayed on them.

But those on the drugs lost their speech more quickly, the journal PLoS Medicine reports.

The drugs studied were thioridazine, chlorpromazine, haloperidol, trifluoperazine and risperidone.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said the charity’s research showed training care staff in dementia can halve drug use.

He said: "This blanket prescription puts vulnerable people at risk of side effects that are extremely distressing for the person and their families."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Anti-psychotic drugs should only be used when appropriate.

"There is no excuse for inappropriately administering them. Such conduct is a serious breach of professional and care standards."

Lily Frost was prescribed anti-psychotic drugs on August 23 last year. She died on October 8.

The 86-year-old retired dinner lady, above, was given powerful tranquillisers to calm her agitation at night.

Soon the formerly cheerful widowed mother of two was sleeping all day and could not hold a pen unaided. She had a stroke, pneumonia and a burst ulcer before she died.

Her daughter Brenda Vickers said: "The change was rapid. She was laughing and happy before she went to hospital and came out like a zombie."

Mrs Vickers, 56, of Chester, said: "I was told she was given the drug for her safety. I think it was to keep her quiet during the day. The prescription of these drugs has to be stopped."

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