The report suggests only one in five dementia patients receive any benefit from taking such medication. The report, The Use of Restraint and Psychotropic Medication in People with Dementia, provides an evidence-based review of the prevalence of the use of restraint, and the potential negative consequences and legal issues surrounding the use of psychotropic medication and physical restraints in people with dementia.

A new study produced by Alzheimer's Australia suggests up to 80 per cent of patients with dementia in aged care facilities are being treated with psychotropic drugs.

Alzheimer's Australia says the use of drugs in nursing homes is excessive and it has called for reform of the sector.

Psychotropic drugs are psychiatric medicines that alter chemical levels in the brain, affecting mood and behaviour. Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications and ADHA drugs are some examples.

Alzheimer's Australia chief executive Glenn Rees says about 140,000 nursing home residents are being sedated and restrained with psychotropic drugs.

"For people with dementia in residential care - and remember that people with dementia account for 50 per cent of residents - about 80 per cent will be on restraint at some time or other," he said.

"Restraint can be necessary and as an organisation we accept that physical restraint in some circumstances and medical restraint are necessary, but we think it should be the last resort, not the first resort."

But the aged care industry argues it has been following the advice of medical professionals.

"It's not the aged care facility that does the diagnosis nor prescribes the medication," said Patrick Reid, the chief executive of Leading Age Services Australia.

"They're acting on the ... information from the clinical pathway, from a doctor."

But Mr Rees says there are alternatives to medication.

"There are a number of things that can be done to reduce restraint," he said.

"One is to adapt the physical environment so it's less confusing and less noisy. Another is to give a person activities and a sense of purpose in life, whether it's rehabilitation, social activities, physical recreation.

"Another is to adopt person-centred care approaches so that the care staff can relate better to the individual and know their personal histories."

Mr Reid says the industry is open to change.

"Any changes to environment, whether it be the built environment, the culture and other things, are important," he said.

"Certainly many of the refurbishments we are seeing in aged care, about 60 per cent of new buildings are around improving that environment. So I think it is a positive.

"My members do embrace those approaches and are trying very hard to make sure everyone is treated as well as they can be, and with their dignity and respect."

A Senate committee has been hearing evidence about the overuse of psychotropic drugs in aged care facilities.

The Alzheimer's Australia report can be accessed at: