by: David Gutierrez
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Anti-psychotic drugs appear to be less effective at improving the behavior of people with learning disabilities than a placebo, according to a new study conducted by researchers from Imperial College London and published in the Lancet.
Anti-psychotics are regularly used on people with learning disabilities who exhibit aggression. But no studies had previously been conducted to see if such treatment was effective.
“The problem with patients with learning disabilities is that we haven’t had the evidence on whether anti-psychotic drugs work,” said lead researcher Peter Tyrer. “Therefore, these patients were assumed to be the same as other mental health patients.”
Researchers studied 86 patients with learning disabilities at 10 different inpatient and community settings in Australia, England and Wales. One group of patients was given a first-generation anti-psychotic known as haloperidol, another group received a second generation drug called risperidone and a third group got a placebo pill. After four, 12 and 26 weeks of treatment, participants were assessed for aggression, aberrant behavior, adverse drug effects, feelings toward their career, and general quality of life.
Aggression and other behavioral factors improved in all three groups, with the greatest improvement observed in the placebo group.
“What our research shows is that drugs are no better than not giving any drugs,” Tyrer said. “It seems what is important is the care a person receives. When people with learning disabilities are aggressive it is important they are given support and people communicate with them.”
According to David Gongdon of the nonprofit organization Mencap, doctors frequently use anti-psychotics instead of addressing the true causes of disruptive behavior.
“Challenging behavior is caused by many different factors – an undiagnosed health condition causing extreme pain, frustration at not being able to communicate properly, or boredom due to a lack of meaningful activity,” he said. “All of this can be dealt with without the use of anti-psychotic drugs.”