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Drugs commonly used to treat delirium unhelpful, may hasten death, study finds

Drugs used to treat elderly patients with a common condition called delirium may not work and might even hasten death, a landmark Australian study has found.

Agar MR, Lawlor PG, Quinn S, Draper B, Caplan GA, Rowett D, Sanderson C, Hardy J, Le B, Eckermann S, McCaffrey N, Devilee L, Fazekas B, Hill M, Currow DC. Efficacy of Oral Risperidone, Haloperidol, or Placebo for Symptoms of Delirium Among Patients in Palliative CareA Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. Published online December 05, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.7491

In this randomized clinical trial of 247 participants receiving palliative care, distressing behavioral, communication, and perceptual symptoms of delirium were significantly greater in those treated with antipsychotics (risperidone or haloperidol) than in those receiving placebo. The authors concluded that “Antipsychotic drugs are not useful to reduce symptoms of delirium associated with distress in patients receiving palliative care.”

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This work, led by South West Sydney Researcher Professor Meera Agar, was featured in an article published by medical reporter Sophie Scott on ABC News, 6 Dec 2016, 11:33am. Read it here.

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Professor Meera Agar is  is a palliative medicine physician, with a particular interest in the supportive care needs of people suffering from advanced illness on the brain. She is affiliated with the South West Sydney Clinical School, University of New South Wales and Clinical Trials, Ingham Institute of Applied Medical Research. Both of these organisations are members of South West Sydney Research. Prof Agar is also affiliated with Flinders University and University of Technology Sydney.