A recent Human Rights Watch report entitled “They Want Docile: How Nursing Homes in the United States Overmedicate People with Dementia” paints a disturbing picture of how patients with dementia are treated in nursing homes. The 157-page report estimates that each week more than 179,000 people living in U.S. nursing facilities are given antipsychotic medications, even though they don’t have the approved psychotic diagnoses—like schizophrenia—to warrant the use of the drugs. Many of these patients are older and have dementia and the medications are administered as a cost-effective “chemical restraint.”
The most common complaints from family members included the loss of their loved one’s personality or seeing them turn into a zombie. Residents remembered slurring their words and being unable to think or stay awake. Former administrators admitted to doling out the drugs without having appropriate diagnoses, securing informed consent or divulging risks. Researchers also heard from family members who hadn’t been informed of the dangers. Others felt they had no choice for fear that their loved ones would be evicted from their facilities.
Once family members demanded their loved ones be taken off the antipsychotic drugs, they saw an improvement in their health—even regaining the ability to walk and talk again. There are many ways that patients with dementia can be treated without the use of drugs. Improvements can be achieved through providing activities, reducing loneliness, creating routines, offering exercise and promoting programs like music therapy and pet therapy.
All of this is important to keep in mind as America ages. There are currently about 50 million Americans over age 65, and that number is expected to double by 2060, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is equally stunning when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Today’s five million patients may become as many as 16 million by 2050.
Although the government is required to protect the rights of nursing home residents according to the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, there are currently no meaningful punishments for violations of the law. The Human Rights Watch report suggests the government can do its part by ending the inappropriate administration of antipsychotic medication by enforcing regulations and penalties, improving inspections, requiring informed consent and ensuring adequate staffing and training in care facilities.
The bottom line is this: if your loved one is in a nursing care facility, be aware of all their medications and why they have been prescribed. If there is a drastic change in their behavior, take it up with administrators immediately. It is up to us to advocate for those who cannot take care of themselves.
About the author: Since starting Burke Harvey, Todd Harvey has engaged in a national practice representing clients in a wide range of litigation including nursing home abuse and neglect, medical malpractice, pharmaceutical products and medical device cases, small business litigation and disputes and consumer protection and consumer class cases. He has received recognition for his work as an advocate and representative seeking justice on behalf of his clients by being selected as a Super Lawyer by his peers as having outstanding litigation skills as well as having been selected one of the National Trial Lawyers Association’s Top 100 Litigators. Read more about Todd Harvey HERE.