Using anti-psychotic drugs may predispose elderly patients to a 60 percent increased risk of developing pneumonia as compared to non-users, researchers at the University Medical Center Utrecht have found.
They also found that the risk is highest in the first week following prescription and decreases gradually thereafter.
This study is the first to show that the development of pneumonia is linked to antipsychotic drug, which is used in elderly patients for the treatment of psychosis and behavioural problems associated with dementia and delirium.
"The risk of developing pneumonia is not associated with long-term use, but is the highest shortly after starting the drug," said Drs. Rob van Marum and Wilma Knol, authors of the study.
Researchers warn that 'all antipsychotic drugs may be associated with pneumonia in elderly patients.'
According to the study, in nursing homes, up to 40 percent of residents may be prescribed antipsychotics.
It has been suggested that, for residents of nursing homes who receive antipsychotic therapy, more than half are prescribed for inappropriate reasons.
Literature shows limited efficacy and effectiveness for antipsychotic drug use in the treatment of behavioural problems in dementia patients, but these drugs are frequently used for this purpose.
In the last few years it has become clear that the use of antipsychotic drugs in elderly patients is also linked to an increased risk of death and morbidity.
However, the underlying mechanism for the link remains unclear.
Researchers stress that clinicians might need to monitor patients for sedation after initiation of antipsychotic medication and that a careful weighing of the possible risks is recommended before starting antipsychotic treatment in elderly people.
This study is published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.