Neuropsychiatric symptoms are common in older adults with dementia and can be associated with a rapid decline in cognitive and functional status. This article reviews the current literature supporting the use of atypical antipsychotic medications in this population. Among the currently available atypical antipsychotics, risperidone and olanzapine have been the most widely studied in double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Despite the common use of other atypical antipsychotic medications, their efficacy and safety in older adults with dementia has not been as extensively studied. Some controversy surrounds the use of atypical antipsychotic agents in older adults with the suggestion that they may increase the incidence of stroke or even death. Despite the potential for increased risk of harm from the use of these medications, atypical antipsychotics are often effective in treating troublesome neuropsychiatric symptoms refractory to other treatments. Whenever possible, these atypical antipsychotic drug treatments should be combined with non-pharmacological treatments to limit the need and dose of antipsychotic drugs and constant monitoring for potential harms should be maintained. The choice of which atypical antipsychotic agent can be guided by the nature and severity of the target symptom and the medication least likely to cause harm to the patient
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