There’s been much criticism of the use of antipsychotic drugs to calm elderly dementia patients. People see it as inappropriate, cruel, and not much better than the old-fashioned physical restraints of a century ago.
But when patients are agitated, delirious, and dealing with a number of extremely upsetting medical conditions, the drugs have been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (login required) as effective and appropriate when used “judiciously and not indefinitely.”
Medical professionals and caregivers may find that the ideal treatments for such patients -- regular counseling for patients and families, one-to-one supervision, a thoroughly controlled environment -- aren’t available at their facilities, or too expensive. Sedatives, for their part, can actually increase agitation.
Antipsychotics, though, appear to be effective palliative care for patients with moderate to severe dementia and a poor quality of life. If a doctor recommends one of these medications for your elderly loved one, you may not want to dismiss it based on what you think you already know. Instead, speak with the doctor and express all of your concerns so you can make a decision based on what's best for your loved one.