Image of male nurse pushing senior woman in a wheelchair in nursing facility

Taking an antipsychotic medication greatly increases the chances that a senior will fall or sustain a fracture, regardless of where that person is living, what drug is involved or what dose is taken, according to recently published findings.

The research is the latest confirmation of the substantial risks posed by antipsychotic drugs. Long-term care providers are well aware of these dangers and are in the midst of a concerted effort to reduce the unnecessary, off-label use of the medications to control dementia symptoms.

The study involved about 100,000 older adults prescribed an atypical antipsychotic, such as quetiapine (Seroquel). More than half of the participants had dementia. Within a 90-day window, they were 52% more likely to experience a serious fall and 50% more likely to sustain a nonvertebral osteoporotic fracture, compared to a control group, the investigators determined.

These risks were the same for long-term care residents and for those living in community settings, the authors noted. The fracture risk could be correlated with the incidence of falls, they wrote, emphasizing that previous research has specifically linked the drugs with gait problems.

Complete findings were published online Monday as a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine.