There have been several reports of antipsychotic drugs being used on nursing home residents with dementia inappropriately, to deal with their behavior. Antipsychotic drugs make people docile – this way they will not cause any ‘trouble’, but they will also lose their sense of self and often be left confined to their beds, staring blankly into space. In the past, we used bed restraints to deal with people with dementia but since they were banned in the 90s, we have turned to medical restraints. Taking someone’s identity away is completely unethical. Furthermore, the use of these drugs in dementia patients can double their risk of death.
Many drugs are misused in nursing homes and can pose a danger to residents. Some of the most prescribed drugs in nursing homes are sedatives, pain relievers, and psychoactive drugs. The misuse of them can cause falls, malnutrition and early death.
In 2018 the Human Rights Watch released a report about this abusive malpractice. They claim that the overuse of medication in US nursing homes is widespread and that it is common practice to give, particularly dementia patients, inappropriate drugs or an inappropriate amount to keep them subdued.
Antipsychotic drugs are designed to treat conditions such as schizophrenia and the FDA requires a label printed on them which warns about the risk they pose to people with dementia. Although they have never banned their use on dementia patients, they warn about an increased risk of death.
In their report, “‘They Want Docile’: How Nursing Homes in the United States Overmedicate People with Dementia,” They visited over 100 nursing homes in 6 states and interviewed over 300 people who had family members with dementia in nursing homes. They estimated that every week more than 179,000 people are wrongly given anti-psychotic medication. They are unable to receive informed consent from the patients who are unwell and often do not let their families know either.
Nursing staff are overworked and so, to make their lives easier, they over-use medications on patients. The misuse or overuse of these drugs is illegal under federal regulations as well as international human rights law. Despite this, there are no consequences for nurses who wrongly administer these drugs or homes where this is common practice. It is especially prevalent in homes that are state-funded and have a small amount of funding.
Families describe their loved ones being left a shell of their former selves. Unable to speak to them or move around. Left to lie in their beds all day and having to be hand-fed. One case study showed a woman who was bed-bound, but when she moved to a new facility and came off the drugs, she was then able to dance, reminisce and make independent decisions.
This wide-spread abuse needs to be more known and more needs to be done to bring those responsible to justice. Furthermore, nursing homes need more funding, so that they are better equipped to deal with residents with complex needs without having to resort to drugs. We must protect the most vulnerable in society and make a systematic change in dementia care and nursing homes.