Use and safety of antipsychotics in behavioral disorders in elderly people with dementia

J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2014 Feb;34(1):109-23. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0b013e3182a6096e.


In recent years, the use of antipsychotics has been widely debated for reasons concerning their safety in elderly patients affected with dementia. To update the use of antipsychotics in elderly demented people, a MEDLINE search was conducted using the following terms: elderly, conventional and atypical antipsychotics, adverse events, dementia, and behavioral and psychotic symptoms in dementia (BPSD). Owing to the large amounts of studies on antipsychotics, we mostly restricted the field of research to the last 10 years. Conventional antipsychotics have been widely used for BPSD; some studies showed they have an efficacy superior to placebo only at high doses, but they are associated with several and severe adverse effects. Atypical antipsychotics showed an efficacy superior to placebo in randomized studies in BPSD treatment, with a better tolerability profile versus conventional drugs. However, in 2002, trials with risperidone and olanzapine in elderly patients affected with dementia-related psychoses suggested the possible increase in cerebrovascular adverse events. Drug regulatory agencies issued specific recommendations for underlining that treatment of BPSD with atypical antipsychotics is "off-label." Conventional antipsychotics showed the same likelihood to increase the risk of death in the elderly as atypical agents, and they should not replace the atypical agents discontinued by Food and Drug Administration warnings. Before prescribing an antipsychotic drug, the following are factors to be seriously considered: the presence of cardiovascular diseases, QTc interval on electrocardiogram, electrolytic imbalances, familiar history for torsades des pointes, concomitant treatments, and use of drugs able to lengthen QTc. Use of antipsychotics in dementia needs a careful case-by-case assessment, together with the possible drug-drug, drug-disease, and drug-food interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Behavioral Symptoms*
  • Comorbidity
  • Dementia / diagnosis
  • Dementia / drug therapy*
  • Dementia / mortality
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Patient Safety
  • Patient Selection
  • Polypharmacy
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antipsychotic Agents