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Alzheimer’s drugs double death risk in elderly


5 Star

Alzheimer’s drugs double death risk in elderly

Our Review Summary

This news report does a solid job of describing study findings that show Alzheimer’s patients taking anti-psychotic drugs face an increased risk of death. It does several things particularly well: 

  • It describes the study methods and results in clear detail
  • It provides comments from two independent experts
  • It puts the findings in the context of previous research and current treatment practices
  • It does all of this in fewer than 450 words. 

The reader takeaway is clear: These drugs are dangerous and, if used, should be done so very carefully. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story fails to mention the price of the anti-psychotic medications.

While this information is not crucial here, as a matter of course the cost of drug regimens under study should be mentioned. In this case, some of the anti-psychotic medications are expensive when taken long-term.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story made a modest attempt to explain the possible benefits of the anti-psychotic drugs for Alzheimer’s patients – effectively painting a picture of doubt about their value.  It states that the drugs may help control aggression and hallucinations "for a few months."  And the story included the damning comment from the Alzheimer’s Association spokesman:  "At some point, some people will be better off with no medication."

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The story does a commendable job of describing the harms of the drugs in a variety of ways:

  • In the first and third paragraphs, the report says the treatment may double the chance of death. 
  • In the middle of the story, the reporter provides the absolute number of deaths in the first year: 39 of  83 patients taking the drugs, 27 of 82 taking the placebo.
  • Later on it uses percentages to describe how many people were alive at two and three years–at three years, 30 percent of patients taking the drugs were alive, compared to 59 percent not taking the drugs.

It also mentions other side effects linked to the drugs, including respiratory problems and stroke.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


The news report does an excellent job of describing how the study was conducted and what outcomes it measured.

It would have been valuable to mention that, as a randomized controlled trial, this is a well-designed, high-quality study. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story does not sensationalize the condition or its treatment.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The reporter interviewed three people: the study’s lead author, the head of an advocacy group with no connection to the study, and an independent psychiatrist.

The report properly discloses that the study’s author has received grants from companies that make Alzheimer’s drugs. 

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The article uses two quotes suggesting that taking no medication is an option.

It also usefully quotes a source who says environmental and behavioral treatments can be used to control some symptoms of dementia.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The first sentence states the drugs are "commonly used." Later on, the story says that up to 60 percent of patients with dementia in the US and UK are given the drugs for one to two years. [This latter detail, unfortunately, is unsourced.]

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

Since the treatment is common, novelty is not an issue. 

Total Score: 8 of 9 Satisfactory


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