Nursing homes around the country face closer scrutiny lately following an investigation in Massachusetts that revealed overuse and misuse of psychotropic medications in patients with dementia.
Investigations have revealed that 40 percent of dementia patients in long-term care facilities are receiving antipsychotic medications to control unpredictable behavior. The Food and Drug Administration warns that this population is especially at risk for health complications and premature death as a result of the overuse of these drugs.
Risks connected to antipsychotic medications
Despite the fact the Medicare and Medicaid prohibit the use of chemical restraints in long-term care patients, many facilities utilize psychotropic drugs — such as Risperdal — as a means of controlling disruptive behaviors in residents. These drugs are strongly linked to a high rate of mortality in elderly patients and those suffering from dementia. Risks include:
- Stroke — Patients taking these drugs have three times the risk of stroke as patients who are not.
- Falls — Over-sedation, confusion and dizziness associated with the drugs increase risk of falling.
- Respiratory infection — Increased sedation and general lack of physical activity significantly increases the risk of pneumonia, a leading cause of nursing home death.
Antipsychotic medications often leave a patient unresponsive and listless, unable to participate in daily activities. This loss of quality of life is possibly as tragic as other known side effects.
What you can do about Misuse of Antipsychotic Drugs
On March 29, 2012, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) created the National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes, an advocacy group that issues guidelines for person-centered care. These guidelines offer long-term care facilities alternatives to the use of antipsychotic drugs and strategies for improving overall quality of life in patients with dementia.