Drugs treating delirium might lead to life-threatening consequences, finds study

Drugs treating delirium might lead to life-threatening consequences, finds study

Getting older can bring a plethora of health challenges, of which some can be highly debilitating and even life threatening. Today, elderly people are expected to live longer than ever due to advancements in medical science, however, there are certain ailments that can shorten one’s life and need immediate evaluation.

Many senior citizens suffer from an acute syndrome called delirium with symptoms of altered attention and cognition. The disease, though, common among the elderly requires long-term hospitalization and leads to a downward spiral of mental abilities, loss of consciousness and, ultimately, death. Although drug therapy remains the mainstay for delirium treatment, a 2016 Australian study showed that strong medications can cause more harm than good, often leading to death.

Published in the JAMA Internal Medicine in January 2017, the study reported that commonly used antipsychotics, haloperidol and risperidone, are ineffective in dealing with delirium in the elderly. Antipsychotics, the study mentions, could actually hasten the elderly patient’s death, thereby invalidating the current line of treatment primarily centered on the use of antipsychotics.

Haloperidol and risperidone can have adverse reactions on the elderly

In the study, titled “Efficacy of oral risperidone, haloperidol or placebo for symptoms of delirium among patients in palliative care”, the researchers reviewed the effectiveness of antipsychotic drugs on 250 patients undergoing palliative care. During the treatment, the patients received either antipsychotic drugs or placebo. Results revealed that the markers of distress in people receiving antipsychotic-enabled support were higher than those who were on placebos.

There was also a significant worsening of the symptoms of delirium, characterized by confusion and loss of memory, in patients receiving drug therapy. “Delirium for many people is preventable or at least treatable, yet these medicines (haloperidol and risperidone) are being widely used and that use is mostly inappropriate,” said the researchers.

Antipsychotics are commonly used for controlling psychosis, delusions and hallucinations primarily in schizophrenia and bipolar, but these are also used in non-psychotic disorders. However, most of the antipsychotics used for the treatment of non-psychotic illnesses are not evidence based. Haloperidol is known to have negative neurological impact, while risperidone is a second-generation antipsychotic that impairs thinking ability of the elderly people.

Tranquilizers and antipsychotic medication associated with harmful consequences

Delirium is an acute cognitive condition characterized by confusion, changes in mood, perception and thinking. Most patients suffering from delirium tend to show violent behavior as the evening progresses. Though delirium is generally uncommon, with only 1 percent of the population exhibiting signs of delirium, it is quite high in the hospital setting, with an estimated 14-24 percent hospitalized patients showing signs of delirium. While there are many underlying factors responsible for the onset of delirium, medication, poor nutrition, blood pressure, urinary tract infection, as well as baseline dementia are the most common predictors for delirium. It is estimated that in nearly two-thirds of the dementia cases in the elderly, delirium is present as a risk factor.

Today, more and more Americans are being prescribed psychotic medications, attributed to an increase in psychotic disorders among the elderly population. One in six Americans is predisposed to depression arising from financial distress, family history or a substance abuse problem. Along with antidepressants, various tranquilizers and antipsychotic medications are increasingly being used as the first line of treatment, thereby increasing the risk of prescription drug abuse and other harmful effects.

Road to recovery

In the wake of the rising prescription drug abuse, it has become important to keep a check on the sale, purchase and use of prescribed drugs. While doctors should be careful when prescribing drugs to their patients, they should also counsel them about the hazards of self-medication.

If you or your loved one is addicted to prescription drugs and is seeking treatment, you may contact the Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline of California for information about various prescription drug rehab centers in California. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-738-2770 or chat online to learn about the best prescription drug addiction treatment in California.