American Psychiatric Association

View all recommendations from this society

Released September 20, 2013; revised April 22, 2015

Don’t routinely use antipsychotics as first choice to treat behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.

Behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia are defined as the non-cognitive symptoms and behaviors, including agitation or aggression, anxiety, irritability, depression, apathy and psychosis. Evidence shows that risks (e.g., cerebrovascular effects, mortality, parkinsonism or extrapyramidal signs, sedation, confusion and other cognitive disturbances, and increased body weight) tend to outweigh the potential benefits of antipsychotic medications in this population. Clinicians should generally limit the use of antipsychotic medications to cases where non-pharmacologic measures have failed and the patients’ symptoms may create a threat to themselves or others. This item is also included in the American Geriatric Society’s list of recommendations for “Choosing Wisely.”


These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

How The List Was Created

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) created a work group of members from the Council on Research and Quality Care (CRQC) to identify, refine and ascertain the degree of consensus for five proposed items. Two rounds of surveys were used to arrive at the final list: the first round narrowed the list from more than 20 potential items by inquiring about the extent of overuse, the impact on patients’ health, the associated costs of care and the level of evidence for each treatment or procedure; and the second gauged membership support for the top five and asked for suggested revisions and comments. The surveys targeted the CRQC; the Council on Geriatric Psychiatry; the Council on Children, Adolescents, and Their Families; and the Assembly, which is the APA’s governing body consisting of representative psychiatrists from around the country. After the work group incorporated feedback from the two large surveys, the APA’s Board of Trustees Executive Committee reviewed and unanimously approved the final list.

On April 22, 2015, APA revised item 3. Read more about these changes and rationale.

For APA disclosure and conflict of interest policy please visit www.psychiatry.org.

Sources

American Psychiatric Association: Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, second edition. Am J Psychiatry. 2007 Dec; 164(Dec suppl):5–56. Available from: http://psychiatryonline.org/content.aspx?bookid=28&sectionid=1679489.

Ballard CG, Waite J, Birks J. Atypical antipsychotics for aggression and psychosis in Alzheimer’s disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Jan 25;(1):CD003476.

Gitlin LN, Kales HC, Lyketsos CG. Nonpharmacologic management of behavioral symptoms in dementia. JAMA. 2012 Nov 21; 308(19):2020-9.

Maglione M, Ruelaz Maher A, Hu J, Wang Z, Shanman R, Shekelle PG, Roth B, Hilton L, Suttorp MJ, Ewing BA, Motala A, Perry T; Southern California Evidence-Based Practice Center. Off-label use of atypical antipsychotics: an update. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2011 Sep 437 p. Report No.: HHSA290-2007-10062-1.

Nasrallah HA. Atypical antipsychotic-induced metabolic side effects: insights from receptor-binding profiles. Mol Psychiatry. 2008 Jan;13(1):27-35.

Richter T, Meyer G, Möhler R, Köpke S. Psychosocial interventions for reducing antipsychotic medication in care home residents. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Dec 12;12:CD008634.

Schneider LS, Tariot PN, Dagerman KS, Davis SM, Hsiao JK, Ismail MS, Lebowitz BD, Lyketsos CG, Ryan JM, Stroup TS, Sultzer DL, Weintraub D, Lieberman JA; CATIE-AD Study Group. Effectiveness of atypical antipsychotic drugs in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. N Engl J Med. 2006;355(15):1525-38.