Federal data recently reviewed by a major newspaper pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request reveals that the inappropriate use of anti-psychotic medications for nursing home residents is rampant. Anti-psychotic medications are typically used in the treatment of severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
About 185,000 nursing home residents in the United States during 2010 were given anti-psychotic medications when it was inappropriate to do so. More than 1 in 5 U.S. nursing homes used anti-psychotic medications for a significant percentage of residents who did not have psychosis or other serious mental conditions.
The use of anti-psychotic medications in patients with dementia is particularly dangerous, earning FDA black-box warnings regarding potentially fatal side effects. Anti-psychotic medications can cause dizziness, abnormal heart rhythms, a sudden drop in blood pressure, blurred vision, increased risk of deadly infections, cardiovascular complications, and urinary problems.
Nursing homes sometimes give anti-psychotic medications to combative or aggressive residents under the pretext of preventing the residents from harming themselves or others. However, the statistics seem to lend support to the belief that anti-psychotic medications administered to nursing home residents may be used to sedate and control residents who simply need more attention and care from nursing home staff — more care and attention means more time spent with residents, which in turn requires more staff time (and more staff), which means higher costs for nursing home owners.
The newspaper reported that at least 25% of nursing home residents without conditions recommended for anti-psychotic medication use nonetheless received the anti-psychotic medications in 21% of U.S. nursing homes in 2010. There was a direct link between the staffing of the nursing homes and their rate of use of anti-psychotic medications for their residents — the fewer the staff involved with the residents’ direct care, the greater the rate of anti-psychotic medication use for non-recommended conditions. The nursing homes that used anti-psychotic medications for conditions other than psychosis and similar mental conditions tended to have more residents that the nursing home staff identified as having behavioral problems such as wandering, verbal abuse, physical abuse, or being resistant to care, and the nursing homes themselves had a higher percentage of residents whose care was paid for by Medicaid and not by private insurance.
The newspaper reported that 10 nursing homes in California during 2010 administered anti-psychotic medication to all of their residents who were without psychosis or a related mental condition. On the other side of the spectrum, 146 nursing homes in the U.S. did not use anti-psychotic medications for their residents without psychosis or a related mental condition (that is about 1% of the nursing homes in the United States with at least 50 residents).
If your family member or a loved one was mistreated, abused, or neglected in a nursing home in the United States, the assistance of a local medical malpractice attorney may help in investigating a possible medical malpractice claim against the nursing home.
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