Experts sound alarm on overprescription of antipsychotic drugs


Despite damning report dementia patients still being drugged. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Antipsychotic drugs are still being prescribed at “alarmingly high rates” to dementia patients despite calls for urgent action on the issue more than a year ago.

More than 120 recommendations were made in a 2019 Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety interim report which stated that: “there was a need for urgent action to respond to the significant over-reliance on chemical restraint in aged care”.

Despite the recommendations, a final Royal Commission hearing in October this year involving eight senior counsel experts found that still not enough was being done to tackle the overuse of antipsychotic drugs .

Senior counsel assisting the commission barrister Peter Gray said antipsychotics were being used far too often to manage dementia symptoms.

This was causing great distress to older people and their relatives, he said.

“There is a need to take concrete action to bring relevant expertise to bear on the serious problem of prescription of antipsychotics,” Mr Gray said.

The Royal Commission’s Final Report was handed to the Governor-General on 12 November 2020.


Dementia is a disease that causes the rapid deterioration of cognitive function and it is the second leading cause of death in Australia.

People with dementia often display agitated behaviours such as screaming, constant vocalisation, pacing, fiddling, crying and swearing.

The antipsychotics being used to treat these behaviours are primarily used to manage psychosis in severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia, experts say.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a royal commission into aged care a day before an ABC Four Corners investigative series in September 2018 revealed failings in the system.

Dementia Australia’s spokeswomen Sarah Richards said that there is often an underlying reason for why people with dementia display challenging behaviours.

“When antipsychotics are used as a first resort, these behaviours are only treated at surface level giving a band-aid like effect,” Ms Richards said.

Researchers also warned antipsychotic drugs could be doing more harm than good.


Dementia app developer Painchek’s senior research scientist, Dr Kreshnik Hoti labelled the drugs “extremely dangerous”.

“With recent studies showing long-term use can cause strokes or even premature deaths, the prescribing of these drugs needs to be closely monitored,” Dr Hoti said.

Stricter regulations around prescribing antipsychotics and increased dementia training to manage “challenging behaviours” were recommendations made by the counsel.

Mr Gray said that  the system should never again resort to antipsychotics in place of proper care of the people showing the so-called challenging behaviours.

Commissioners Tony Pagone and Ms Lynelle Briggs are now preparing a final report, which will be submitted early next year.