Antipsychotic Drugs Over-Prescribed in Elderly

In May 2011, we told you about an eye-opening statistic that said that nearly one in seven elderly nursing home residents are given power antipsychotic drugs, even though the medicines are dangerous and most of the recipients don’t benefit from these medications. Now, a new article in The Daily News reports that the number may be even higher than that:  Nursing facilities self-report that about 25% of residents received antipsychotic drugs in the third quarter of 2010.

For most of the elderly patients who get the antipsychotics, the drugs—which tend to be sedating—are given to calm disruptive behavior caused by dementia. But antipsychotics don’t treat dementia, and they often have severe side effects. At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Aging, lawmakers were told that instead of inappropriate prescribing, more care should be taken to determine why patients with dementia act up, and then find ways to treat the true underlying condition.

“As the baby boomer generation ages, it is imperative to address the overuse and misuse of antipsychotic drugs among nursing home patients,” said Daniel Levinson, Health and Human Services Inspector General.

We agree with the idea that this issue needs to be addressed, but it is unclear why this is more important for baby boomers than for any other generation. (Daniel Levinson could have been said this better.) This practice of inappropriate use of antipsychotics has been going on for decades:  The same Senate committee issued a report on the misuse of drugs in nursing homes in 1975, and they held a workshop on the topic 20 years ago.

From 1975 to 2011:  That’s a lot of elderly nursing home residents who had to spend the final months or years of their lives in a medication-induced fog. Yes, it is imperative to address the issue. And it is imperative to stop the practice and give elderly patients back their dignity.

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