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Nursing homes use drugs for behavior control

Nursing home patients drugged for convenience
Despite a 2005 study showing that the off-label use of antipsychotic drugs to control the behavior of people with dementia could be putting their lives at risk, a new study shows the practice hasn’t stopped.

Is your loved one being drugged just so she’s easier to deal with?

You probably find the very thought horrifying-and so do I.

Unfortunately, if your loved one is in a nursing home, though, it could be all too true.

We trust them to care for our loved ones when we no longer can. But nursing homes all over the country are abusing that trust with a widespread use of powerful antipsychotic medication to control behavior.

As if the use of these drugs for behavior control weren’t enough, it gets a bit worse. The antipsychotics these institutions turn to aren’t at all approved for this kind of use. The government’s been trying to put an end to the practice, but a recent study reveals that it’s just not working.

And so our loved ones are still being handed daily pills to make caring for them less demanding.

Researchers found that, in 2008, elderly people with dementia accounted for 9% of all antipsychotic prescriptions. These drugs are widely used to control “difficult behavior” in people with dementia.

Now, this is really disturbing. Because the off-label use of antipsychotics could be costing lives. In 2005, the FDA slapped a “black box” on such drugs, warning of an increased risk of death. Even more disturbing-there’s no evidence that they work for this behavior control.

Yet almost one third of nursing home patients are prescribed antipsychotics. Newly arrived residents are more likely to receive this type of drug if they’re in a nursing home that routinely prescribes them.

This means it’s more the culture of the institution-not the actual needs of patients-that drives what drugs they’re choking down on a daily basis.

Yes, caring for another person, especially one who suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s or any number of other ailments, is hard work. But the solution is not treating a human being like an inconvenience that can be dealt with by doling out pills.

It’s dangerous-and it’s just plain wrong. And as usual, it’s back to us having to depend on our own vigilance to make sure our loved ones aren’t being harmed.

“Antipsychotics Still Widely Used in U.S. Nursing Homes,” MedLine Plus (www.