Neuroleptics are being prescribed to help control Alzheimer's and dementia symptoms like agitation, hallucinations and erratic behaviour although these drugs have only been licensed for use in people suffering from schizophrenia.

A five-year study revealed that people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia are twice as likely to die if they took neuroleptics but despite these warnings, the practice hasn’t changed.

Neuroleptics have been found to offer little benefit to patients with milder symptoms and that they greatly increase their risk of dying prematurely. Despite the findings, 45% of Alzheimer's patients in care homes are being prescribed a neuroleptic drug.

The study involved 165 Alzheimer's patients who were randomly given one of three types of neuroleptic drugs, or a placebo. Two years after, 45% of those who took the real drugs had died compared with 22% who were given the placebo. On average patients who were on the drugs died six months earlier.

The lead researcher, professor Clive Ballard, said that not only were people more likely to die from taking the drugs but were also more likely to suffere severe side-effects like stroke, chest infections and falls.

The sedatives are being used because the services can't cope with people who are in a distressed state. There could be ways to avoid the usage of neuroleptics but that would involve costly training of staff.

Although the medicines watchdog issued a warning in 2004 that two types of neuroleptics, olanzapine and risperidone, should represent a risk of stroke and death to Alzheimer's patients evidence from 2005 show that 100,000 people suffering from dementia are being prescribed a neuroleptic drug.

Some experts characterized such practice as a national scandal. Neuroleptics should be used as a last resort but since elderly patients are not priority comparing to children, there is no loud outcry.