Members of Parliament claim that as many as 105,000 dementia patients in the UK are being treated inappropriately with antipsychotic drugs and are calling for this “dangerous overprescribing,” which they say accounts for 70% of all prescriptions, to stop.

Two-thirds of care home residents have some form of dementia, and antipsychotics continue to be a first resort for dealing with challenging behaviour in these patients, even through they double their risk of death, triple the risk of stroke and cause devastating side effects such as accelerated cognitive decline, claims the report, which is entitled A Last Resort and was published this week by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society.

The Society puts the cost of antipsychotics to the UK £60.8 million each year, says the MPs, who are calling for both a cost-effectiveness review by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and a national audit by the Care Quality Commission.

“There is a real issue with the over-prescription of anti-psychotics to people who may not be in a position to make an informed choice,” said the Group’s chairman, Jeremy Wright, who is Conservative MP for Rugby and Kenilworth. Other recommendations in the report call for: specialist training for all care home staff, which it says reduces the need for antipsychotics by 50%; families to be involved in decisions around the prescribing of antipsychotics; more pro-active support for care home staff from general practitioners, community psychiatric nurses and psychiatrists; and compulsory reviews every 12 weeks of people with dementia who are being prescribed antipsychotics.

“Best practice guidelines are not enough - safeguards must be put in place to ensure antipsychotics are always a last resort,” said Mr Wright, who added: “We owe it to our fellow citizens who are suffering from these drugs to take action, and to do so now.”

Alzheimer’s Society chairman Neil Hunt also called for urgent action, saying that it was “absolutely disgraceful that widespread abuse of people with dementia has been allowed to continue, despite safety warnings on antipsychotics.”

Over 70% of people with dementia experience challenging behaviour, such as aggression or restlessness, at some point during their illness but, more often than not, this is an expression of unmet need, and “there is no excuse for reaching for the medicine cabinet,” said Mr Hunt. “Safe, effective alternatives to antipsychotics are available. New Alzheimer's Society research shows specialist dementia training vastly increases quality of life and could save the UK £35 million a year if it was mandatory,” he added.

The Government is due to publish its National Dementia Strategy in the autumn. An estimated 700,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia, and this is expected to rise to a million in less than 20 years.