Researchers from Sydney’s UTS Centre for Cardiovascular and Chronic Care have found that strong drugs used to treat Delirium in elderly patients are not be effective and may even be harmful to patients.

Delirium is a condition that occurs suddenly, causing acute confusion, inattention and an altered conscious state, typically is only lasts for a short period of time. In many elderly patients, it can be confused for Dementia.

A common treatment for Delirium in the elderly is through the use of antipsychotic medication.

Up to 10 patients in hospital have delirium, while a greater number have the condition in palliative care. This is why palliative care patients were used in this new study.

The way the experiment was conducted was as follows; there were around 250 patients in palliative care. Some were given one of two commonly used antipsychotic drugs, such as haloperidol and risperidone, while others were given a placebo, which essentially does nothing.

By giving patients a placebo, their results act as a baseline for how effective the antipsychotic medication really is.

The study found that of the patients who were being treated with antipsychotics displayed “significantly greater” symptoms of delirium and distressing behaviour than in those receiving the placebos.

Professor Meera Agar, who led the study, told the ABC that “not only do the drugs not work, but they actually make people worse by prolonging their delirium”.

There is a huge concern that the antipsychotic medication increased mortality for people with dementia.

One conclusion of the study found that it is more important to identify delirium early and treat the underlying causes, as it reduces the patient’s distress more than antipsychotic medication

The Sydney based study also found that ensuring elderly patients had their glasses and hearing aids, as well as making sure that they were sufficiently hydrated and nourished, could potentially prevent or treat delirium.

Findings of the research should be enough to prompt health authorities to rethink the current treatment plans for delirium.

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