Pharmacological treatment of neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia: a network meta-analysis

Age Ageing. 2023 Jun 1;52(6):afad091. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afad091.


Background: Pharmacological treatments are very common to be used for alleviating neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPS) in dementia. However, decision on drug selection is still a matter of controversy.

Aims: To summarise the comparative efficacy and acceptability of currently available monotherapy drug regimens for reducing NPS in dementia.

Method: We searched PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials between inception and 26 December 2022 without language restrictions; and reference lists scanned from selected studies and systematic reviews. Double-blind randomised controlled trials were identified from electronic databases for reporting NPS outcomes in people with dementia. Primary outcomes were efficacy and acceptability. Confidence in the evidence was assessed using Confidence in Network Meta-Analysis (CINeMA).

Results: We included 59 trials (15,781 participants; mean age, 76.6 years) and 15 different drugs in quantitative syntheses. Risperidone (standardised mean difference [SMD] -0.20, 95% credible interval [CrI] -0.40 to -0.10) and galantamine (-0.20, -0.39 to -0.02) were more effective than placebo in short-term treatment (median duration: 12 weeks). Galantamine (odds ratio [OR] 1.95, 95% CrI 1.38-2.94) and rivastigmine (1.87, 1.24-2.99) were associated with more dropouts than placebo, and some active drugs. Most of the results were rated as low or very low according to CINeMA.

Conclusions: Despite the scarcity of high-quality evidence, risperidone is probably the best pharmacological option to consider for alleviating NPS in people with dementia in short-term treatment when considering the risk-benefit profile of drugs.

Keywords: dementia; network meta-analysis; neuropsychiatric symptoms; neuropsychiatry; older people; treatment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Databases, Factual
  • Dementia* / diagnosis
  • Dementia* / drug therapy
  • Galantamine*
  • Humans
  • Network Meta-Analysis
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risperidone


  • Galantamine
  • Risperidone