Recent research has shown that nursing homes are prescribing unnecessarily enormous quantities of antipsychotic medication to residents with dementia.

It is hypothesized that these antipsychotics are, in some cases, being used to keep patients with mild behavioral problems (like those caused by dementia) in an easily manageable state so that short-staffed nursing homes can better handle them.

In other cases, antipsychotic drugs are being used to replace alternative behavior modification therapies that don't involve medication.

This evidence is particularly disturbing in light of the 2005 FDA-issued warning that people with dementia who take antipsychotic medication have an increased risk of sudden death.

How many nursing home residents is this affecting? Here are a few highlights from a study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services:

  • 88% of Medicare-funded antipsychotic medications prescribed in nursing homes are administered to people with dementia.
  • From January-June of 2007, 300,000 unwarranted prescriptions for antipsychotic medication were administered to people in a nursing home. More than 50% of these prescriptions were of an unnecessarily high dosage.

Be vigilant about the medications being taken by the elder you care for.

If your elderly loved one is in, or is about to be placed in a nursing home, you should make yourself aware of the home's reputation with regards to prescribing and dosing medications.

Do some research on the number of mental health professionals employed by the prospective nursing homes. A lack of accessibility to geriatric psychologists can sometimes force nursing homes to resort to medication to resolve behavioral problems in residents that may be just as easily solved or managed by counseling.

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Also, be sure to inform the nursing home staff of the medications being taken by your elder so that the nursing home has all of the information necessary to manage your elder's medical care.