Anti-psychotic medication is primarily used to treat symptoms of psychosis (including hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech/thought, flat or inappropriate emotions, etc.), symptoms associated with illnesses such as schizophrenia. However, this class of medication is also often prescribed in order to manage significant behavioral difficulties. The medications have a "dampening effect," which tends to slow people down. A person brought to an emergency room after having overdosed on an hallucinogen, and who is reacting violently, may be administered an anti psychotic medication in order to bring their behavior under control.
This article, suggests, however, that this class of medications not be used to manage the behavioral side effects of early onset dementia in the elderly. It worsens the condition, and generally offers no real benefit - the behavior exhibited at this stage may be significantly different from what family and friends are used to seeing, but is not at a point where powerful medication such as an anti psychotic ought to be necessary. Another important point is that medications have a sedating effect - in small doses, people may find that their behavior has improved without a significant impact on their thinking, movement, speech, etc. But in the elderly, what you will likely find is that a person prescribed this type of medication will have their quality of life significantly impaired by the use of these medications. From the article, according to Neil Hunt, MD:
The overprescribing of antipsychotics to people with dementia is robbing people of their quality of life and is a serious breach of human rights. Paul Burstow MP's report illustrates the scale and severity of the important issue.
Inappropriate use of antipsychotics in people with dementia can cause devastating side effects, such as excessive sedation, parkinsonism symptoms, accelerated cognitive decline and an increased risk of stroke. This abuse has got to stop.
Antipsychotics have got to stop being a quick fix. There are over 700,000 people with dementia in the UK and more than half of these will experience behavioral symptoms. Alzheimer's Society research has shown that basic dementia training can help staff deal with behavioral symptoms and reduce the use of antipsychotics drugs by 50 per cent."
Unfortunately, when an individual and their family is confronted with dementia, there is no easy (or good) answers. It is devastating to watch the person you love change before your eyes, and watching previously unthinkable behaviors become routine for a loved one is heart-breaking. In addition, I can understand the urge of treatment providers, who are often overworked, to want to manage an individual as efficiently as possible. However, the biggest impediment to allowing an individual with early-onset dementia to maintain their personal dignity as long as possible, and to enjoy their remaining time with family and friends, is a lack of knowledge and skills. This goes all around, from a lack of sufficient training for staff, to a lack of information for family members, as well as an overall societal reluctance to discuss these issues. It's getting better, but with the huge boomer cohort entering older adulthood, it needs to continue improving. Providing medication that don't significantly improve behavior, and accelerate the cognitive impairments, is not the way to go.