Although antipsychotics drugs are approved mainly to treat serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, many care-givers prescribe these drugs to elderly patients to calm the anxiety or aggression that is often associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A recent report published by National Public Radio (NPR) found that almost 300,000 nursing home residents are currently receiving anti-psychotic medications, primarily to mitigate the behavioral and mood problems that can be caused by Alzheimer’s and dementia. See NPR, The Old and Overmedicated: The Real Drug Problem in Nursing Homes,http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/12/08/368524824/old-and-overmedicated-the-real-drug-problem-in-nursing homes?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social.
Gerontologists, however, say that anti-psychotic drugs are unnecessary in the vast majority of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
Family members are frequently never provided with a complete explanation about why these medications are being prescribed to their loved ones. There is growing evidence that nursing home residents are being given antipsychotic drugs for the convenience of the staff by sedating patients who are agitated. Federal law prohibits the use of antipsychotics for the convenience of staff, which is considered a “chemical restraint.” Many patients or their guardians may not know that antipsychotics are not needed for their condition and are rarely told about the serious risks associated with taking these drugs. These drugs can have an intoxicating and even stupefying effect on elderly patients, greatly increasing their risk of falling and suffering injuries, including fractures and death. These drugs also include black box warnings stating that they can increase the risk for heart failure, infections, and death. Antipsychotic drugs should be used only as last a resort.
The next time you visit your loved one who is in a nursing home be sure to check out the list of the drugs given to the patient to make sure the he or she is not being overmedicated.