Nursing homes without adequate staffing may be turning to prescription drugs to control and subdue residents, according to study results published by the Boston Globe. Based on data obtained from the federal government, 185,000 residents, most commonly vulnerable adults with Alzheimer's or dementia, were given antipsychotic drugs in 2010 despite recommendations by federal nursing home regulators to the contrary.
Antipsychotic drugs have been used by nursing home staff to control residents who showed tendencies toward wandering off or being physical or verbally abusive to staff and other residents. But the drugs are not without severe side effects and using a strong antipsychotic for other than what it should be prescribed for can present serious dangers to nursing home residents.
Antipsychotic drugs are intended for patients with severe mental illness, like schizophrenia, not dementia or Alzheimer's. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings specifically against using antipsychotics for dementia. These 'black box warnings' include the possibility of death as a side effect related to giving an antipsychotic to a dementia patient as well as dizziness, cardiovascular complications, heart arrhythmias, low blood pressure and blurred vision.
According to data regularly collected by U.S. nursing home regulators and made available to the Globe via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, one in five nursing homes across the country use antipsychotic drugs to control residents who do not have a mental illness that would dictate their use.
While some nursing home administrators argue that the use of antipsychotics is necessary to keep residents from harming themselves or others around them, other elder care professionals believe that more information on the side effects of antipsychotics for older, frailer and typically sicker adults is needed.
Source: National Journal, "Antipsychotics Overused in Nursing Homes: Report," April 30, 2012