Nursing Home Facilities’ Inappropriate Use of Antipsychotic Medication is Detrimental to Residents with Dementia

It has taken far too long, but the Obama administration is finally cracking down on nursing homes to curtail inappropriate use of antipsychotic medications such as Abilify, Risperdal, Zyprexa, and clozapine on residents with Alzhiemer’s disease and dementia. Federal investigators report that many older Americans are overusing psychiatric drugs and recommend that Medicare officials stop making unnecessary prescriptions immediately

The Department of Health and Human Services has been inattentive to the improper use of antipsychotics by older adults who reside outside nursing homes. Doctors often prescribe antipsychotics to calm nursing home residents with dementia who behave aggressively (i.e. hitting, yelling, or screaming). The use of antipsychotics to curtail behavioral symptoms of dementia is highly questionable. The Food and Drug Administration warns that antipsychotics increase the risk of death when used as treatment for dementia with psychosis.

Taxpayers and the Medicare program are often the culprits of financing these risky mind-altering medications for seniors with dementia. The Government Accountability Office’s investigators claimed in 2011 that Medicare officials were not monitoring patients’ use of prescription drugs adequately enough. However, Medicare requires drug insurance plans to cover all or substantially all antipsychotic medications that are in one of six “protected classes.”

Toby S. Edelman, a lawyer who represents patients at the Center for Medicare Advocacy, says, “We could save money and provide better care if nursing homes reduced the inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs.” The American Health Care Association, a trade group for nursing homes, says that these drugs “are expensive, costing hundreds of millions of Medicare dollars. They also increase the risk of death, falls with fractures, hospitalizations and other complications.” Nursing homes must be mindful of their residents’ well-being and cease their tendency to use antipsychotic drugs inappropriately.