BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Page last updated at 18:02 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 19:02 UK

'What did they give my mother?'

By Paul Burnell
File On 4

Lily Frost
Lily Frost before (left) and after her hospital admission (right)
When 86-year-old Lily Frost was admitted to hospital, the last thing her family expected was the radical change in her condition after she was discharged.

Pictures taken just before admission show dementia sufferer Lily laughing and joking at the home where she lived.

Photographs after her admission show a stark contrast.

Lily had been admitted because of concerns about the condition of a surgical metal plate in her leg.

Three weeks after discharge her daughter Brenda Vickers made a shocking discovery.

"The carers were concerned because she was a totally different person and she was sleeping all the time and we found that she was on olanzapine," she told BBC File On 4.

FIND OUT MORE
Listen to File On 4, Radio 4 Tuesday 17 June 2008 2000 BST, repeated Sunday 22 June 1700 BST
Or catch up at Radio 4's Listen Again site

Olanzapine is a drug normally prescribed to people with a psychotic condition.

Medication warnings

Checking the drug on the internet, Brenda Vickers was alarmed to find it is not recommended for elderly patients with dementia because of its side-effects.

She found warnings that it could cause strokes or pneumonia in elderly dementia patients.

A few weeks later Lily suffered a mild stroke and was admitted to hospital where she was also suffering from pneumonia and hypothermia.

She died three weeks before her 87th birthday on 8 October 2007, with peritonitis recorded on her death certificate.

Drug risks

"I was just so upset," said Brenda, "all the doctors knew that I was thinking that it was this drug that had done the damage."

A statement from The Western Cheshire Primary Care Trust said: "The patient was treated with this particular drug [olanzapine] because she was agitated.

"The doctor prescribed a very low dose having carried out a risk assessment that this was the most appropriate drug because the benefits of prescribing it outweighed any risks."

Anti-psychotic medication is not being prescribed for a therapeutic purpose
Jeremy Wright, chair All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia

File On 4 has found that cases such as Lily Frost's are not isolated, an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 elderly people with dementia are being prescribed dangerous drugs which are not licensed for the treatment of their condition.

Prof Clive Ballard, director of research for The Alzheimer's Society said: "Probably around 70% of them don't need the drugs."

File On 4 has found some GPs prescribing two of the drugs - risperidone and olanzapine - despite warnings against this four years ago by the former Committee on Safety of Medicines.

The File On 4 questionnaire to a group of 355 GPS found that 144 prescribed anti-psychotic drugs to care home staff to use when "necessary."

There are concerns that anti-psychotic drugs such as olanzapine are being over prescribed by doctors just to keep elderly dementia patients quiet, either in hospitals or care homes.

'Last resort'

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia published a recent report Always A Last Resort, condemning this practice.

Its chair Conservative MP Jeremy Wright said: "Anti-psychotic medication is not being prescribed for a therapeutic purpose, it is not even being prescribed for a medical purpose, it is being prescribed because of the absence of other coping mechanisms."

"And staff who are over worked and will find themselves very often in care homes that are undermanned will resort to this because it's the only way of dealing with potentially difficult people exhibiting challenging behaviour of all different kinds," he said.

Ivan Lewis, Minister for Care, said doctors who over-prescribed anti-psychotic drugs could face disciplinary action.

He told File On 4, "If we send a message that GPs can behave in some circumstances, frankly in an unprofessional way, what are we saying about the way we care about such vulnerable and frail older people - it cannot be accepted.

"We wouldn't tolerate it for our families, we shouldn't tolerate it for people, some of whom will not have people in their lives any more.

"Far too many families have been let down by the system - until now dementia is a condition we haven't given sufficient attention to."

Hyper File on 4


ABOUT THE PROGRAMME


INTERACT


Podcast

Download or subscribe to this programme's podcast

Podcast Help

SEARCH FILE ON 4:
 


SEE ALSO
Doctors 'ignoring drugs warning'
17 Jun 08 |  File on 4
Concerns over Alzheimer's drug
18 Feb 05 |  Health


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific