Antipsychotics continue to be widely used by people with a learning disability and mental and behavioural health problems, especially those who are older and in institutionalised settings, according to new research.

The study published in Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities looked at why psychotropic medication is frequently administered to people with intellectual disability with mental health and/or behavioural problems, instead of other non-pharmacological interventions. 

It also looked at the factors contributing to this greater medication intake and found that as the participants' age increases, so does the probability of using more psychotropic medication. 

Use of nonpharmacological intervention alternatives

The suggested reasons for this increase included difficulty in identifying the onset of age-associated diseases such as dementia, whose prevalence in older adults with intellectual disability is higher than in older adults without intellectual disability. Likewise, emotional stress associated with the transitions at this stage of life could be triggering behavioural disorders that are addressed through psychopharmacological therapy.

The sample consisted of 991 people with intellectual disability over 45 years. Descriptive statistics and multinominal logistic regression were carried out.

The authors concluded: "Future research lines should also elaborate on how to address behavioural problems in ageing people with intellectual disability using nonpharmacological intervention alternatives (e.g., positive behavioural support, active support) to determine their effectiveness and prioritise their choice in cases of challenging behaviours that respond adequately to this type of interventions."