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Overuse of Antipsychotic Drugs Still a Problem at New York Nursing Homes

The stigma associated with life in nursing homes remain strong. Many seniors do everything in their power to avoid moving into a skilled nursing facility over fears of the quality of life that residents experience. These are common worries, and a key reason that New York resident conduct early estate planning and elder care planning to ensure they are doing everything they can so they have quality living options if necessary down the road.

Unfortunately, progress in addressing quality of life issues at these facilities is often slow-going. For example, one of the most well-known issues affecting nursing homes throughout the country, including New York, is the overuse of antipsychotic drugs to “control” residents. These “chemical restraints” make it easier for employees to watch a larger number residents. But the drug use drastically lower the quality of life of many residents, often placing them in a stupor without the ability to meaningfully interact with the world.

The problem of chemical restraints have been known for years, and recently federal agencies pushed to tackle the issue. But, so far, the progress has been limited. As a New York World story noted, the overall decrease in antipsychotic use is modest and some facilities throughout New York continue to increase use of the dangerous drugs.

The Data
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid launched a comprehensive to address the issue about a year ago, in May of 2012. The goal was to decrease antipsychotic use by 15 percent in a year. Now that a year has passed the result are in–and they are not encouraging. The overall national rate was only about half of the goal with an 8 percent decrease. In New York the results were even worse, with only a 5.4 percent reduction in use over the last year. The full index of data discussing the results can be found here.

While noting that any reduction is good, the director of a New York City Long Term Care Community Coalition noted, “There are still thousands of people who receive the drugs and shouldn’t have.”

The Dangers
The overuse of these drugs is not only a problem of wasted resources. There is very real harm that can befall a senior who is given these medications. Most notably, studies continue to roll in which show that antipsychotics pose increased risk of death for seniors with dementia. Yet, seniors with dementia continue to receive the medications, even if they do not have the conditions for which the drugs were originally developed: schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires the labels of all of these products to include warning that their use includes a heightened risk of death for those with cognitive conditions like dementia.

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