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Nursing homes misuse drugs to control residents with dementia

Understaffed and overworked nursing home employees are resorting to misusing drugs to keep residents with dementia docile. It is common for nursing homes across the country to give patients with dementia antipsychotic medication to control their behavior. In many cases, patients or their loved ones have not given consent to administer the drugs.

Antipsychotic medications are used to treat psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia. Antipsychotic drugs have never been approved by the FDA as safe for treatment of dementia. Unnecessary use of antipsychotic drugs leads to over-sedation, fear and even death. In fact, the use of these drugs on elders with dementia is associated with close to double the risk of death.

A recognized issue in the U.S.

The misuse of antipsychotic medication in the U.S. is a recognized issue by a number of government agencies and congress. A report by Human Rights Watch estimates that every day over 179,000 people are given antipsychotic medicine without a proper diagnosis in the U.S. Most of these people are elders with dementia.

Families should pay close attention to loved ones with dementia who live in nursing homes. Loved ones of those with dementia can watch for sleepy or "zoned-out" behavior. Ask nursing home workers for a list of medications that the resident takes and read any warnings that may come with them.

A violation of federal law

Using antipsychotic medication to keep elders passive without consent is a direct violation of federal regulations. Elders have rights under the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987. Residents and their health care proxies should be offered viable alternatives to antipsychotic drugs and explained their right to refuse specific treatments. However, many nursing home employees skip consent and administer the drugs anyway.

Nursing homes can face citations for over-using medication on patients. However, many of these citations do not lead to financial penalties, the primary method of enforcing federal regulations. The report issued by Human Rights Watch found that citations do not alter the use of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes. Some families must resort to civil litigation to achieve justice for their aging loved ones and push for change.

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