Many patients in nursing homes are given antipsychotic drugs unnecessarily

Elderly couple holding hands

Dementia is a major hurdle that many elderly patients in Chicago face on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the condition can cause many otherwise happy individuals to become difficult patients in nursing homes. According to the Alzheimer’s Association dementia can be the result of a fall or head trauma, and it often causes extreme symptoms such as memory problems, changes in personality and an impaired ability to reason. A recent report by the American Association of Retired People found that many nursing homes have turned to the use of antipsychotic medications for managing difficult patients who often have dementia, a practice that is well-known to have potentially deadly consequences.

What are antipsychotics?

The National Institute of Mental Health lists antipsychotics as a regular treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The drugs treat symptoms of the conditions, no the root cause. Antipsychotics have been known to help patients suffering from breaks with reality, delusions and hallucinations by blocking the interaction of certain compounds within the brain. However, there are many side effects with use of these medications, including skin rash, blurred vision, drowsiness, dizziness and rapid heartbeat.

Unnecessary and unlawful use

According to the AARP, nursing home patients are routinely dosed with antipsychotics in an effort to get them to be more manageable. The drugs sedate and subdue the patients so they are less likely to be combative or refuse treatment. This patient abuse happens to as many as 20 percent of nursing home residents throughout the nation every year. The Office of the Inspector General of Health and Human Services reported that Medicare claims for antipsychotics for elderly patients occurred in 14 percent of all nursing home residents. Of these claims, only 17 percent were for treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The OIG also discovered that antipsychotics are not administered according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services guidelines in as many as 22 percent of cases. These patients and their families are often completely unaware that the drugs are even being administered, which is both dangerous and against the law.

FDA Warnings

In an effort to restrain the prolific use of antipsychotics in the elderly, the Food and Drug Administration issued a “black box” label, its strongest warning, in a Public Health Advisory. In it the FDA stated that they found a direct link between the increased use of these drugs on elderly dementia patients and an increased rate of death. The warning included a reminder that antipsychotics have not been approved for use on elderly patients for treatment of behavior disorders. However, despite these known risks, neglect of patients continues to occur with each dose of unauthorized, potentially deadly medication.