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A lot of attention has been paid recently to the rampant overuse of powerful antipsychotic medications among many nursing homes across the country for elderly residents suffering from an array of conditions. Though the prescription medications are intended for those with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, the reality is that they are routinely being prescribed for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, leading to devastating side effects.

According to experts, the problem is that nursing home residents suffering from Alzheimer’s and other similar conditions can become combative and overly emotional at times. Family members are often ill equipped to manage these mood swings and the seniors end up being placed in nursing home care facilities. Though you would expect nursing homes to be better able to offer appropriate care, the reality is that most staff members lack the patience and training to understand how to respond to the sometimes-volatile moods of residents. As a result, antipsychotics are used a quick fix to bad behavior.

The trouble is that antipsychotic medications are incredibly powerful and often debilitate those receiving them. Some recipients lose the ability to walk, talk or eat, often spending hours laying in a nearly vegetative state. Experts say that the powerful drugs are being used as modern day restraints and are comparable to handcuffing seniors to wheelchairs, a practice employed decades ago to deal with unruly patients.

Using antipsychotic drugs as chemical restrains is inhumane and also can lead to a variety of dangerous side effects. The drugs increase the risk that a senior will fall or have a stroke, and generally increase the risk of death. Despite these dangers, nursing homes across the country are dependent on the drugs, with some nursing home prescribing antipsychotics to up to 80 percent of residents.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has taken note of the overuse and is now publishing statistics concerning nursing homes’ antipsychotic use rate, something it hopes will bring down the dependence on the drug. Elder advocates say that beyond more transparency, nursing homes should offer better training to doctors and staff members for how to cope with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s. Medication should be a last resort, not the first step. Families can also play a role by becoming more engaged in their loved ones’ care, asking doctors about the need for medications and if there are any other alternatives. The hope is that changes happen so that innocent seniors are not subjected to the harm of unnecessary prescription medications.


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