According to a recent report released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), almost 16 percent of residents at long-term nursing homes are being treated with antipsychotic medications. While down from 24 percent in 2011, the CMS report and many doctors question the efficacy and necessity of these powerful mind-altering medications. According to the report, decreases in antipsychotic usage were seen across all fifty states, with New York seeing one of the smallest reductions.
The majority of elderly residents receiving the antipsychotic medicine are diagnosed with dementia. Antipsychotic drugs, such as Abilify, Seroquel, Risperdal, and Zyprexa, have not been proven to treat dementia, nor have these drugs been shown to reduce the symptoms of dementia. In some instances, antipsychotic medication can also cause serious side effects for the senior citizens who have been prescribed these drugs. In addition to a higher rate of death, antipsychotic drugs also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and slip and fall accidents. Consequently, medical associations and patient advocacy groups believe the number of dementia patients taking antipsychotics should be closer to zero.
Sadly, some posit that the purpose of these drugs is to fix understaffing problems at nursing homes. The CMS report states that they are commonly used to sedate needy or burdensome patients. The report, released last week states, “Antipsychotic drugs alter consciousness and can adversely affect an individual’s ability to interact with others. They can also make it easier for understaffed facilities, with direct care workers inadequately trained in dementia care, to manage the people who live there.”
In 2011, an estimated 229,000 nursing home residents with dementia were being treated with antipsychotics, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. While the government agency has not released updated numbers, the non-profit Human Rights Watch estimates that 179,000 elderly Americans in long-term assisted living facilities are currently receiving the unnecessary drugs, according to the New York Post.
Speaking to the newspaper, the child of a nursing home resident described how staff at the nursing home neglected her mother for hours at a time after giving her Abilify, an antipsychotic drug. Many families can often comply with doctor’s orders to sedate their loved ones because of a view that some of the behavior of patients diagnosed with dementia is “abnormal.” Unfortunately, the antipsychotic drugs routinely prescribed for these problems only sedates their family members while causing more problems with the side effects.
Doctors and nursing homes should know better, and while the 8 percent decrease in antipsychotic usage over the past five years is welcome, considering the fact that prescribing an elderly person a harmful drug can constitute medical malpractice in many circumstances, the number should be much lower. In the words of Dr. David Gifford, senior vice president for quality and regulatory affairs for the American Health Care Association, “There’s been a dramatic improvement, but there’s room for more improvement.”