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Problematic Use of Anti-Psychotic Medications in Nursing Homes

Old lady in nursing home

While only 5% of all nursing home residents are believed to need these medications, some research shows that nearly a quarter of all those in elderly assisted living facilities are given anti-psychotic medications. Not only are these drugs not medically necessary, they can do lasting harm to seniors with certain conditions often associated with old age.

Why do nursing homes prescribe anti-psychotic drugs to seniors?

Anti-psychotic drugs are a category of psychiatric medication reserved for those suffering from severe schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The drugs are often given to nursing home residents who exhibit erratic, violent behavior as a way of making them more sedated and easily controlled, even though this is not the intended use of the drugs. Despite this, pharmaceutical companies have long promoted anti-psychotics to nursing homes as a way to regulate patient behavior. Additionally, chronic understaffing of assisted living facilities and insufficient training provided to nurses and their aides leave many staffers feeling as though they have no other choice than to make use of these medications.

Why are these drugs harmful to the elderly?

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning to medical practitioners that anti-psychotic medications can be even more dangerous to those with a form of dementia than to an average adult. When taken by those without psychotic symptoms, the drugs have been associated with disorientation, memory loss, anxiety, or worse when given to those with forms of senility. Unfortunately, 60-70% of all nursing home residents have some form of dementia, so the risk of serious harm is high. Even more importantly, there are many more productive behavioral interventions that nursing staff can and should use to create a safer environment for staff and residents alike.

In order to discourage this practice, the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (the federal agency in charge of rating nursing homes and offering federal funding) now will dock a facility’s rating based on the percentage of residents being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs, and now includes this number in reports published on the facilities it evaluates. If you have a loved one in a nursing home and notice sudden behavioral changes, such as memory loss, loss of energy, or proneness to confusion or disorientation, speak with the nursing home staff and determine what prescriptions they’ve been given to find out if they are taking anti-psychotic drugs, and speak with an attorney about your rights in this situation.

For assistance in exploring possible claims for nursing home neglect or abuse in Illinois, contact the knowledgeable and compassionate Carol Stream elder law and nursing home malpractice attorneys at Johnson, Westra, Broecker, Whittaker & Newitt at 630-665-9600.

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