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Inappropriate medications in nursing homes

The challenges of caring for patients with dementia have led many nursing homes in Alabama to administer unsafe medications that cause heavy sedation, known as antipsychotics. This practice is known as a chemical restraint, and while nursing homes find that the drugs make patients easier to manage, they can cause great harm.

The American Society of Consultant Pharmacists is a professional association focused on geriatric medication management that monitors the use of medications prescribed to elderly Medicare patients in nursing homes. According to the ASCP, even though dementia behaviors are usually best treated through modifications in their environment, more than one in four nursing home residents in the United States is on antipsychotic drugs. This can permanently destroy the patients’ quality of life and increase the risk of death. The ASCP has partnered with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in working to reduce inappropriate antipsychotic medications prescribed to nursing home residents.

Antipsychotics have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but when they are given to patients with dementia, they increase the risk of death by about 4.5 percent, primarily from cardiovascular and infectious diseases. This information is printed on the “black box” warning, which is a requirement by the FDA when a drug has special problems associated with it, especially regarding an increased likelihood of death. The disorientation and dizziness that are included in the list of common side effects also put the patient at risk for falls, which can cause hip fractures, head trauma and death.

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