Nursing home patients often given antipsychotic drugs unnecessarily

aLovingcouple_vectorstock_953577When families make the difficult decision to take their elderly loved ones to a nursing home, they expect the homes to provide residents with an environment in which they can enjoy life as much as possible. Despite this expectation, the American Association of Retired People reports that a large number of nursing homes are regularly using antipsychotics on many of their patients despite the medical risks associated with use on the elderly.

One family recently experienced the consequences of the inappropriate administration of prescription drugs. A Ventura, California woman entered a nursing home for rehabilitation after suffering from a broken pelvis. At the time of her admittance, she was speaking, walking, eating and dressing herself, and she only took prescription drugs for her blood pressure and cholesterol. Eighteen days later when she was discharged, her daughter was shocked to see the woman slumped in a wheelchair, withdrawn, garbling her words and chewing on her hand. Her daughter later learned that her mother had been given unauthorized doses of antipsychotics and other mood altering drugs. The woman died a few weeks later.

Overview of antipsychotics

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, antipsychotics are primarily used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. These drugs treat symptoms of disease, such as breaks with reality, hallucinations, and delusions, by blocking certain compounds from interacting with the brain. Side effects can include dizziness, drowsiness, rapid heartbeat, blurred vision, and skin rashes.

Overuse by nursing homes

The AARP reports that dosing the elderly with unnecessary antipsychotics as a way to sedate and subdue residents occurs in 20 percent of nursing home patients in the U.S. According to the Office of the Inspector General of Health and Human Services, 14 percent of nursing home residents showed Medicare claims for administration of antipsychotics. Eighty-three percent of these claims were for conditions other than schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The OIG also found that in 22 percent of cases, the drugs were not administered according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services guidelines, potentially causing great harm to patients. Elderly patients who receive these drugs have double the risk of death, double the risk of pneumonia, and triple the risk of stroke.

Clear Warnings

The Food and Drug Administration has issued its strongest “black box” warning through a Public Health Advisory regarding the use of these drugs on the elderly. They found that increased death rates occur among elderly patients with dementia when all types of antipsychotics are administered. The FDA reiterated that the medications are not FDA-approved for treatment of behavioral disorders in dementia patients. Despite these known risks, caregivers continue to engage in nursing home neglect by administering these drugs to the elderly.