Older adults with dementia experience significant weight gain and worsening
cholesterol levels when they are treated with second-generation antipsychotic
(SGA) medications in a pattern similar to younger patients taking
antipsychotics for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, according to new
analyses of data from the Clinical Antipsychotic Trials of Intervention
Effectiveness—Alzheimer's Disease (CATIE-AD).
The CATIE-AD study, a large, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled
trial funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, was conducted between
April 2001 and November 2004 to investigate the effectiveness of SGAs in
treating psychosis and agitation in patients with Alzheimer's disease
The study investigators had previously reported that the primary outcome,
time to discontinuation of the study drug for any reason in 36 weeks of
treatment, did not differ significantly among patients treated with
olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone, and placebo (Psychiatric News,
November 3, 2006). Despite modest effectiveness in some of the clinical
indicators with active treatments, many patients discontinued antipsychotics
because of intolerable adverse effects.
The current study, by Ling Zheng, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., and colleagues, focused
on analyzing the weight and metabolic effects of SGAs in study patients. It
was published online in AJP in Advance on April
Among the ambulatory Alzheimer's patients who participated in the CATIE-AD
trial, female patients, but not male patients, had statistically significant
weight gain and an increase in body mass index (BMI) from baseline. The
authors found a significant association between the duration of SGA exposure
and weight gain: The longer that patients took SGAs, the more likely they
would gain at least 7 percent of their body weight, a conventional standard
for clinically significant weight gain. On average, female patients gained
0.14 pounds per week while taking SGAs. In subgroup analyses, the weight and
BMI increases reached statistical significance in patients who were randomly
assigned to olanzapine or quetiapine.
In addition to weight gain, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
level decreased and waist circumference increased significantly in patients on
olanzapine compared with those on placebo. Increased waist circumference and
decreased HDL cholesterol are both associated with increased risk of
cardiovascular diseases. The analyses did not show a significant effect on
blood pressure, triglyceride, and glucose levels associated with SGA use.
Unfavorable metabolic effects associated with SGAs, including weight gain,
elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and altered glucose
regulation/insulin insensitivity, mostly reported in child and adolescent
patients taking these medications, have caused much clinical concern and media
attention in recent years. The metabolic effects in older adults have been
less studied. The average age of patients in the CATIE-AD study was 78
"The important message from the study is that elderly patients with
dementia receiving antipsychotics experience some of the same changes of
metabolic syndrome that younger patients have," said Lon Schneider,
M.D., a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and gerontology at the University
of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, in an interview."
Whereas it took a while for the field to recognize these metabolic
changes associated with antipsychotics in younger patients, it has taken
longer for us to realize they occur in elderly patients as well."
He continued, "The weight gain and metabolic effects were seen as
early as 12 weeks into treatment and continued with longer use." He
noted that past clinical trials of SGAs, many sponsored by pharmaceutical
companies, often lasted only six to eight weeks and did not adequately monitor
None of the SGAs is approved by the FDA for treating symptoms of dementia.
Despite the lack of evidence for efficacy from studies such as CATIE-AD,
antipsychotics are often prescribed for dementia-related behavioral
disturbances for which there is no approved drug therapy. A standard black-box
warning is currently required by the FDA in the labels of all antipsychotics
that warns "elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis treated
with antipsychotic drugs are at an increased risk of death" based on
data from clinical trials.
The mounting evidence of potential harm, "in the context of these
drugs not working very well," should give clinicians pause for
prescribing antipsychotics to dementia patients, Schneider suggested.
"Metabolic Changes Associated With Second-Generation
Antipsychotic Use in Alzheimer's Disease Patients: The CATIE-AD Study"
is posted at<ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/reprint/appi.ajp.2008.08081218v1>.▪