Across the country, nursing home residents are put on strong antipsychotic medications to treat such ailments as aggression and agitation. Often times, they are given these powerful medications for “off-label” uses without their consent or without the knowledge and consent of family members – sometimes leading to nursing home injuries. Some U.S. legislators would like to change that.
Antipsychotic medications are typically used to treat psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, and sometimes even dementia. Since more than half of nursing home residents suffer from some form of dementia, the use of antipsychotics in nursing homes has skyrocketed. Nursing homes across the country also report using antipsychotic medications to treat their residents for anxiety; in addition, some use them as a sleep aid or in place of antidepressants.
Some Side Effects of Antipsychotic Medications in Nursing Homes
Although antipsychotics can help in off-label situations, they are not approved for such uses and carry far too many risks to do so lightly. Antipsychotics are strong medications that carry grave potential side effects. Some of the side effects of antipsychotic medications include:
- Weight gain, which can lead to diabetes
- Sudden cardiac arrest
- Movement disorders
- High blood pressure
These are especially dangerous for the elderly.
Efforts to Curtail Antipsychotic Medication Use in Nursing Homes
In light of these side effects, three U.S. senators have proposed a bill that would require nursing homes to gain written consent from a family member or designated health care agent before administering these powerful drugs to their residents. The bill would require nursing homes to provide information to family members about the possible side effects and risks associated with antipsychotics, as well as other treatment options available. The goal is to reduce the number of users at nursing homes and encourage alternative therapies. Other types of therapies include:
- Message therapy
- Music therapy
- Distraction techniques
- Social interaction
- Calling family and friends
- Water therapy
The three senators believe nursing homes have abused the use of antipsychotic drugs among the elderly for far too long. They are seeking to make sure nursing homes only use antipsychotic medications as a last resort, and that proper consent for such medications is given before administering them. In the meantime, family members of nursing home residents who have been given antipsychotics without their knowledge or against their will may wish to consider discussing their rights and options with an attorney, especially if their loved ones have suffered an injury as a result of the facilities’ misuse of these medications.