Atypical antipsychotic drugs have been used off-label in clinical practice for treatment of serious dementia-associated agitation and aggression. Following reports of cerebrovascular adverse events associated with the use of atypical antipsychotic in elderly patients with dementia, the FDA issued black box warnings for several atypical antipsychotics, titled “Cerebrovascular Adverse Events, including Stroke, in Elderly Patients with Dementia.” Subsequently, the FDA initiated a meta-analysis of safety data from 17 registration trials across six antipsychotic drugs (five atypical antipsychotics and haloperidol). In 2005, the Agency issued a black box warning regarding increased risk of mortality associated with the use of atypical antipsychotic drugs in this patient population. Geriatric mental health experts participating in a 2006 consensus conference reviewed evidence on the safety and efficacy of antipsychotics, as well as nonpharmacologic approaches, in treating dementia-related symptoms of agitation and aggression. They concluded that, while problems in clinical trials design may have been one of the contributors to the failure to find a signal of drug efficacy, the findings related to drug safety should be taken seriously by clinicians in assessing the potential risks and benefits of treatment in a frail population, and in advising families about treatment. Information provided to patients and family members should be documented in the patient’s chart. Drugs should be used only when non-pharmacologic approaches have failed to adequately control behavioral disruption. Participants also agreed that that there is a need for an FDA-approved medication for the treatment of severe, persistent or recurrent dementia-related symptoms of agitation and aggression (even in the absence of psychosis), that are unresponsive to nonpharmacologic intervention. The authors have outlined methodological enhancements to better evaluate treatment approaches in future registration trials, and they provided an algorithm for improving the treatment of these patients in nursing home and non-nursing home settings.
Keywords: agitation and aggression, psychosis of Alzheimer disease, atypical antipsychotics, conventional antipsychotics, mortality