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Nursing Homes Using Medicare Funds to Pay for Wrongly Prescribed Antipsychotics

On November 30, 2011, the Associated Press and Bloomberg news both reported that Medicare money was being used to improperly prescribe antipsychotics to nursing home patients. These drugs, which include AstraZeneca Plc (AZN) and Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY), are used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, they are also commonly used in nursing homes for patients with dementia. Although specialists recommend that patients with dementia seek non-pharmacological treatments, most nursing homes inappropriately prescribed antipsychotics in order to subdue patients. Of the 14 percent of residents who were prescribed antipsychotics, it was found that 83 percent were for residents with dementia. In 2007, these wrongly prescribed antipsychotics amounted to $116 million of taxpayers’ money. This money could have been used to fund other nursing home projects that are very necessary and would significantly improve quality of life for elderly adults.

The improper use of taxpayers’ money is not the only issue at stake here, however. Patients’ lives are being put at risk by nursing homes who are unnecessarily prescribing antipsychotics. The Food and Drug Administration cautions that the use of antipsychotics increases the risk of death among seniors. Additional side effects include an increase in blood sugar and cholesterol, which may also lead to weight gain, and a higher risk of falls, mortality, and hip fractures.

The use of antipsychotics, known for their sedative effects, to subdue dementia patients is exemplary of the use of drugs to chemically restrain nursing home residents. Not only is this a direct violation of patients’ rights, but it also brings to light issues of understaffing in nursing homes. The inadequate staffing of nursing homes prevents caregivers from providing sufficient care for all their residents and often leads to the use of drugs as chemical restraints. Even if your loved one’s nursing home is adequately staffed, quality of care is another issue that must be addressed. Caregivers must be well-trained, especially in matters such as how to best care for a patient suffering from dementia. Sometimes, dementia patients are prescribed antipsychotics because caregivers are not knowledgeable and are unaware of any other methods of treatment for dementia.

Previous studies have shown that the use of antipsychotics actually triggers aggressive behavior in dementia patients. Because a common cause of agitation is delirium, which is often a consequence of polypharmacy, the excessive use of multiple prescribed drugs simultaneously, it is only logical to conclude that agitation should not be treated by using additional drugs. Specialists confirm that the best treatment for agitation is behavioral, not chemical.

Nursing homes are not only wasting taxpayers’ money, but they are also putting the lives and well-beings of our loved ones at risk for their own convenience. Furthermore, the use of antipsychotics is only worsening the circumstances of elderly adults who have dementia. For all these aforementioned reasons, it is crucial that to ensure that your loved one’s nursing home is not wrongly prescribing medications to chemically restrain your loved ones. However, if your loved one resides in a nursing home facility in Bakersfield, Palmdale, or Lancaster and you feel that your loved one is a victim of such unfortunate circumstances, please contact us today to see how we can help.