Mental letdown for antipsychotic meds

Antipsychotic medications spur surprisingly little improvement in the mental prowess of people with chronic schizophrenia, a national investigation finds. Patients who were prescribed any of several new antipsychotic drugs, often touted as effective at boosting thinking skills in people with schizophrenia, displayed only modest increases in mental agility during the first 6 months of treatment.

The drugs’ effects were no better than the effects of an older antipsychotic substance, according to a team led by psychologist Richard S.E. Keefe of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

After 18 months, patients receiving the older drug actually showed slightly more improvement on a battery of learning, memory, attention, and reasoning tests than did patients getting the newer antipsychotics, the scientists report in the June Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study’s volunteers, ages 18 to 65, had been taking antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenia at clinical sites throughout the country. Participants randomly received the old drug—perphenazine—or one of the new ones—olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone, and ziprasidone.

Testing of mental skills occurred before the study began and after 2 months of drug treatment for 817 patients, after 6 months for 523 patients, and after 18 months for 303 patients.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.