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Introduction: Methods, Commentary, and Summary

J Clin Psychiatry 2004;65(suppl 2):5-20

Objectives. Antipsychotics are widely used in geriatric psychiatric disorders. A growing number of atypical antipsychotics are available, expanding clinical options but complicating decision-making. Many questions about use of antipsychotics in older patients remain unanswered by available clinical literature. We therefore surveyed expert opinion on antipsychotic use in older patients (65 years of age or older) for recommendations concerning indications for antipsychotics, choice of antipsychotics for different conditions (e.g., delirium, dementia, schizophrenia, delusional disorder, psychotic mood disorders) and for patients with comorbid conditions or history of side effects, dosing strategies, duration of treatment, and medication combinations.

Method. Based on a literature review, a 47-question survey with 1,411 options was developed. Approximately three quarters of the options were scored using a modified version of the RAND 9-point scale for rating appropriateness of medical decisions. For other options, experts were asked to write in answers. The survey was sent to 52 American experts on treatment of older adults (38 geriatric psychiatrists, 14 geriatric internists/family physicians), 48 (92%) of whom completed it. In analyzing responses to items rated on the 9-point scale, consensus was defined as a nonrandom distribution of scores by chi-square “goodness-of-fit” test. We assigned a categorical rank (first line/preferred, second line/alternate, third line/usually inappropriate) to each option based on the 95% confidence interval around the mean. Guidelines indicating preferred treatment strategies were then developed for key clinical situations.

Results. The expert panel reached consensus on 78% of options rated on the 9-point scale. The experts did not recommend using antipsychotics in panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, nonpsychotic major depression, hypochondriasis, neuropathic pain, severe nausea, motion sickness, or irritability, hostility, and sleep disturbance in the absence of a major psychiatric syndrome. However, antipsychotics were favored in several other disorders. For agitated dementia with delusions, the experts’ first-line recommendation is an antipsychotic drug alone; they would also consider adding a mood stabilizer. Risperidone (0.5–2.0 mg/day) was first line followed by quetiapine (50–150 mg/day) and olanzapine (5.0–7.5 mg/day) as high second-line options. There was no first-line recommendation for agitated dementia without delusions; an antipsychotic alone was high second line (rated first line by 60% of the experts). The experts’ firstline recommendation for late-life schizophrenia was risperidone (1.25–3.5 mg/day). Quetiapine (100–300 mg/day), olanzapine (7.5–15 mg/day), and aripiprazole (15–30 mg/day) were high second line. For older patients with delusional disorder, an antipsychotic was the only treatment recommended. For agitated nonpsychotic major depression in an older patient, the experts’ first-line recommendation was an antidepressant alone (77% first line); second-line options were an antidepressant plus an antipsychotic, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), an antidepressant plus a benzodiazepine, and an antidepressant plus a mood stabilizer. For nonpsychotic major depression with severe anxiety, the experts recommended an antidepressant alone (79% first line) and would also consider adding a benzodiazepine or mood stabilizer to the antidepressant. If an older patient with nonpsychotic major depression fails to respond to antidepressants at adequate dosages for adequate duration, there was limited support for adding an atypical antipsychotic to the antidepressant (36% first line after two failed antidepressant trials). Treatment of choice for geriatric psychotic major depression was an antipsychotic plus an antidepressant (98% first line), with ECT another first-line option (71% first line). For mild geriatric nonpsychotic mania, the first-line recommendation is a mood stabilizer alone; the experts would also consider discontinuing an antidepressant if the patient is receiving one. For severe nonpsychotic mania, the experts recommend a mood stabilizer plus an antipsychotic (57% first line) or a mood stabilizer alone (48% first line) and would discontinue any antidepressant the patient is receiving. For psychotic mania, treatment of choice is a mood stabilizer plus an antipsychotic (98% first line). Risperidone (1.25–3.0 mg/day) and olanzapine (5–15 mg/day) were first-line options in combination with a mood stabilizer for mania with psychosis, with quetiapine (50–250 mg/day) high second line. If a patient has responded well, the experts recommended the following duration of treatment before attempting to taper and discontinue the antipsychotic: delirium, 1 week; agitated dementia, taper within 3–6 months to determine the lowest effective maintenance dose; schizophrenia, indefinite treatment at the lowest effective dose; delusional disorder, 6 months–indefinitely at the lowest effective dose; psychotic major depression, 6 months; and mania with psychosis, 3 months. For patients with diabetes, dyslipidemia, or obesity, the experts would avoid clozapine, olanzapine, and conventional antipsychotics (especially low- and mid-potency). Quetiapine is first line for a patient with Parkinson’s disease. Clozapine, ziprasidone, and conventional antipsychotics (especially low- and mid-potency) should be avoided in patients with QTc prolongation or congestive heart failure. For patients with cognitive impairment, constipation, diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, dyslipidemia, xerophthalmia, and xerostomia, the experts prefer risperidone, with quetiapine high second line. More than a quarter of the experts considered these combinations contraindicated: clozapine + carbamazepine, ziprasidone + tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), and a low-potency conventional antipsychotic + fluoxetine. In combining antidepressants and antipsychotics, the experts would be much more cautious with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors that are more potent inhibitors of the CYP 450 enzymes (i.e., fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, paroxetine) and with nefazodone, TCAs, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. The experts recommended extra monitoring when combining any antipsychotic with lithium, carbamazepine, lamotrigine, or valproate (except aripiprazole, risperidone, or a high-potency conventional plus valproate) or with codeine, phenytoin, or tramadol.

Conclusions. The experts reached a high level of consensus on many of the key treatment questions. Within the limits of expert opinion and with the expectation that future research data will take precedence, these guidelines provide direction for common clinical dilemmas in the use of antipsychotics in elderly patients. Clinicians should keep in mind that no guidelines can address the complexities of an individual patient and that sound clinical judgment based on clinical experience should be used in applying these recommendations.​