An Oxford University professor has warned of the need for increased caution in prescribing antipsychotics to dementia patients after a new study found potential links to a range of severe health conditions.

The study considered more than 174,000 adults diagnosed with dementia between 1998 and 2018.

Masud Husain, professor of neurology at the University of Oxford, said: "These findings add to existing evidence about the need to be cautious in prescribing antipsychotics to people with dementia."

The study scrutinised age-specific data from GP surgeries across England.

Oxford Mail: Masud Husain, professor of neurology at the University of Oxford, said there was a need to be cautiousMasud Husain, professor of neurology at the University of Oxford, said there was a need to be cautious (Image: Newsquest)

Out of the patients listed, 35,339 were prescribed antipsychotics, 63 per cent of whom were women.

The findings have led experts to highlight an urgent need to regulate prescriptions further.

They suggest those with dementia taking antipsychotics were at higher risk of illnesses including pneumonia, bone fractures, and stroke.

Dementia patients on antipsychotic drug treatment showed double the risk of developing pneumonia compared to those not taking such drugs.

Researchers also discovered a 61 per cent increased risk of stroke, a 43 per cent higher chance of breaking a bone, a 28 per cent increased risk of heart attack, and a 27 per cent increased likelihood of heart failure.

Dementia patients prescribed antipsychotics also showed a 72 per cent increased risk of kidney injury and a 62 per cent greater risk of developing a type of blood clot known as venous thromboembolism.

The risks appeared to peak in the first week of treatment.

Over the first 180 days of starting the drugs, antipsychotics might be associated with one additional case of pneumonia for every nine patients treated and one extra heart attack for every 167 patients treated.

The study is observational, so no firm conclusions can be made about cause and effect.

Senior author of the study, professor Darren Ashcroft from the University of Manchester, said: "It is important that any potential benefits of antipsychotic treatment are weighed carefully against the risk of serious harm.

"In recent years, it has become clear that more people with dementia are being prescribed antipsychotic drugs, despite existing regulatory safety warnings."

Dr Sheona Scales, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, added: "The distressing symptoms of dementia, such as confusion and agitation, pose significant challenges for people living with dementia, their families, and caregivers.

"These new findings suggest that these risks may be more severe than previously understood, which is particularly concerning given the rise in their use during the pandemic.”

Charles Marshall, professor of clinical neurology at Queen Mary University of London, suggested the latest findings should lead to renewed efforts to reduce antipsychotic prescription to those living with dementia.