, Volume 28, Issue 12, pp 961-980
Date: 31 Aug 2012

Management of Schizophrenia in Late Life with Antipsychotic Medications

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Abstract

Although patients with schizophrenia are reported to have excess mortality compared with the general population, many affected patients will nonetheless survive and continue to have the disorder in later life. Consequently, geriatric schizophrenia will be a significant public health concern in the years to come, and evidence-based treatment of schizophrenia in older patients is becoming an urgent issue. However, there has been a paucity of comparative data to guide selection of antipsychotics for schizophrenia in late life.

The primary aim of this review was to synthesize the available evidence on management of late-life schizophrenia with antipsychotic medications; a secondary aim was to evaluate treatment resistance in this population. Accordingly, PubMed and EMBASE were searched using the keywords ‘antipsychotics’, ‘age’ and ‘schizophrenia’ to identify psychopharmacological studies of antipsychotics in late-life schizophrenia (last search 30 April 2011). The literature search identified 23 prospective studies of use of antipsychotics for schizophrenia in older patients (generally age ≥65 years), including eight double-blind trials. The sample size was smaller than 40 patients for 52% of the studies. Two of the double-blind studies were post hoc analyses and one was a placebo-controlled trial. In the largest double-blind study, olanzapine (n = 88, median dose 10mg/day) and risperidone (n = 87, median dose 2 mg/day) were compared in patients not resistant to these therapies, with similar effects. There have also been several open-label trials of these two agents that have shown efficacy and tolerability in non-resistant patients. Evidence on other antipsychotics has been scarce and less robust.

The gold standard for treatment-resistant schizophrenia is clozapine. However, almost all of the studies of clozapine to date have effectively excluded older patients with schizophrenia. Only one small study has evaluated clozapine (n = 24, mean dose 300 mg/day) in comparison with chlorpromazine (n = 18, mean dose 600 mg/day) in a difficult-to-treat older population; the investigators reported that both treatments were similarly efficacious. Furthermore, there has been little compelling evidence in favour of or against augmentation of antipsychotics with other psychotropic medications in the older age group.

Treatment of non-resistant, late-life schizophrenia with olanzapine and risperidone appears to be supported by the available evidence. However, data on geriatric patients with schizophrenia are generally scarce, particularly for treatment-resistant subpopulations, underscoring the need for more research in this important area.