Nursing home resident advocates have long questioned the use of anti-psychotic drugs on residents who do not need them. Those at the Alzheimers Reading Room have speculated that the practice is a kind of nursing home abuse used to cut costs. Instead of having to hire and better train staff members to work with patients who are considered “difficult,” nursing homes will often just medicate the residents with tranquilizers so they require less attention and less time.
Psych News.com reports that because of the questions repeatedly raised, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) opened an investigation into the use of anti-psychotic drugs in nursing homes. At the end of 2011, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on the HHS report. According to the report, in the first half of 2007, 14 percent of nursing home residents were put on an “atypical” anti-psychotic medication. This means that 14 percent of nursing home residents were being given powerful medications for unclear or inappropriate reasons.
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Anti-psychotic medications increase the risk of death in patients who have dementia and are only approved to treat very specific conditions. If the drugs are used to treat other conditions it is considered “off-label.” In 83 percent of cases, residents on anti-psychotics were being treated for off-label conditions. In 88 percent of cases, patients who were prescribed anti-psychotics suffered from dementia.
The HHS investigation did not examine the reasons for the overuse of anti-psychotics. But with reductions in Medicare funding and other budget cuts looming, it is not a stretch to believe some unscrupulous nursing home directors have turned to over medicating residents as a way to cut costs.