Hallucinations and delusions increase the risk of developing dementia, delirium, functional impairment, and of death. The differential diagnosis includes isolated hallucinations, delirium, depression with psychotic symptoms, late-onset schizophrenia, and unrecognized dementing disorder, including Lewy Body disease and frontotemporal dementia. Optimum management requires diagnosis, assessment of the goals of treatment, and understanding the risks and benefits associated with psychoactive medications. Atypical neuroleptics are appropriate first-line agents for most patients with dementia and psychotic symptoms. Response to medications is modest and a second agent (including acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants) may be necessary to reduce behaviour to acceptable levels. In addition, decline in cognitive status and increased risk of cerebrovascular events and death are associated with the use of antipsychotic medications. Change in functional status and time alter the impact of behavioural symptoms. Periodic reassessment and reduction of medication dosage over time appears safe, usually without re-emergence of symptoms.
Key words: psychotic symptoms, older adult, dementia, antipsychotics, behavioural disturbance.