Training care home staff to properly help dementia sufferers could reduce the use of antipsychotic drugs by up to 50%, research has suggested.

The Alzheimer's Society said 144,000 people with dementia are "inappropriately" prescribed the drugs with increased risk of death or stroke.

It said the drugs can also leave people unable to walk or talk.

Staff at more than 150 UK care homes will be specially trained in a bid to reduce the number of patients unnecessarily taking the drug. They will learn simple exercises such as care home residents' life stories to connect with them. A trial saw a considerable drop in the number of patients taking the medication.

The study saw 349 people in 12 care homes tested. After 12 months the number of people on antipsychotics in the care homes trialling the scheme was considerably lower than the number in the control homes - 23% and 42% respectively.

Alzheimer's Society director of research Professor Clive Ballard said: "Finding a way to end the unacceptable levels of inappropriate antipsychotic prescriptions to people with dementia is an urgent priority we all have to address.

"If we don't, many thousands more people will have their health and quality of life put at risk. FITS (the new training programme) has the potential to have a huge impact.

"By empowering staff with the knowledge they need to understand dementia and the person behind the condition it will help them to provide good quality, individually tailored care. Only then can we ensure antipsychotics are a last resort and people with dementia are supported to live their life with dignity and respect."

Paul Burstow, care services minister, added: "Far too many people with dementia are robbed of part of their lives because they are needlessly given antipsychotics.

"In order to reduce this we need to make sure staff working with people with dementia understand the condition so they are able to treat the person, not just address the symptoms. That's why we've put £100,000 towards this vital project."