Antipsychotics may increase pneumonia risk in Alzheimer's patients

Commonly-used antipsychotic medications may increase the risk of pneumonia when given to people with Alzheimer's disease, research has found.

Researchers with the University of Eastern Finland studied more than 60,500 people with Alzheimer's disease over a seven-year period to determine the link between antipsychotics and hospitalizations or deaths related to pneumonia. The three most commonly used antipsychotics — quetiapine, risperidone and haloperidol — all showed similar associations with pneumonia risk.

Results of the study, published in Chest, found that antipsychotic use doubled the risk of pneumonia in people with Alzheimer's, and those without Alzheimer's still showed a “somewhat higher risk.” The risk of pneumonia may even be higher than reported since the study only focused on cases that resulted in hospitalization or death, researchers noted.

Patients' risk of pneumonia was highest at the beginning of their antipsychotic treatment, and remained elevated throughout long-term use, researchers found.

Researchers urged clinicians to consider the “risk-benefit balance” when prescribing antipsychotics, and to keep the treatment as short as clinically possible.