Antipsychotic Drugs in Nursing Homes

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Stephanie G. Thompson, director of clinical operations for Lightfully Behavioral Health, spoke with US News about antipsychotic drugs used to treat certain mental health disorders. Recent reports suggest these powerful drugs may be overused in treating older adults in nursing homes. 

Normally, antipsychotic drugs are used to treat certain mental health disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. In these conditions, antipsychotic medications can make a difference in the quality of life of bipolar individuals. However, antipsychotic medications are sometimes misused or abused by nursing homes. According to a September 2021 NY Times investigation, more than 21% of nursing home residents are on antipsychotic drugs despite being dangerous for older people. 

The drugs are being used to treat dementia patients because of the similarities in symptoms between dementia and schizophrenia. However, there are no approved FDA drugs to treat the symptoms when they occur with dementia.  Antipsychotic medications may not be approved for dementia use, but they are prescribed off-label.  There’s concern that the reliance on antipsychotic medication may correspond with low staffing levels at nursing homes.  

The National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes has focused on reducing the use of such drugs through better training and available alternatives. As a result, there had been a drop in use from 2011-2019. However, with COVID, those numbers have moved back up, according to data released in April of 2022.

Instead of focusing on the use of antipsychotics, there are nondrug-based interventions that can be the best way to avoid medications. Read more for suggestions on how to best care for your loved one.

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