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The misuse of antipsychotics in nursing homes

Antipsychotic drugs are not recommended for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, so why on earth do nursing homes keep giving them to patients?

For years, antipsychotics were used as “chemical restraints” on older people suffering from dementia. In practical terms, these heavy-duty drugs were sedating and numbing, so they effectively made patients easy to manage — which is something that nursing homes wanted.

Eventually, guidelines were put in place that limited the use of these chemical restraints when they served no medicinal purpose. In large part, that’s because those types of drugs drastically increase the mortality rates among seniors with dementia — meaning that 15,000 seniors may be dying prematurely each year.

According to the Human Rights Watch, nursing facilities distribute antipsychotics “off-label” to about 179,000 residents every year. In fact, roughly 16% of people who spend more than 100 days in a facility will eventually be given antipsychotics despite not having a diagnosis that supports it.

According to the Human Rights Watch, there’s only one reason this happens: It’s convenient for the staff. Many nursing homes are severely understaffed on weekends and during the evenings, so they simply don’t want patients that are troublesome. The “black box” warnings on these drugs, imposed as a safety measure by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), aren’t enough to dissuade these facilities from using them. If they’re caught in the act, the fines aren’t hefty enough to make the facilities think twice.

It’s important to be aware of the potential for drug misuse on any elderly nursing home patient with dementia — especially if it’s someone you love. If your loved one was abused via chemical restraints, find out what legal rights you have.

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