A new report by the Maine Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program indicates the state is the No. 1 most-improved when it comes to slashing the number of potentially fatal antipsychotic medications doled out to elderly in nursing homes.
That’s certainly good news. But there’s more to it.
The state still ranks 26th in the U.S. in terms of the total number of nursing home residents prescribed these dangerous drugs.
Many nursing homes have come to rely on these medications to treat elderly dementia patients, despite the fact the drugs aren’t approved for such use. The Federal Drug Administration has only granted use of the drugs for conditions of mental illness, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
But this off-label use quells many of the symptoms caregivers find frustrating when it comes to dementia patients: confusion, aggression, anger and anxiety. This certainly makes the staff’s job easily and more convenient. However, it comes with a major risk.
These drugs, including Risperdal, Haldol and Seroquel, are stamped with a black box warning that expressly indicates they increase the risk of stroke and heart attack in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia.
Our Bangor nursing home abuse attorneys recognize this as a huge risk to our elderly loved ones. It is truly unacceptable given that the risks are clearly known and the primary benefit is to those providing care.
Maine has approximately 6,800 nursing home residents, and of those, about half have been diagnosed with dementia. That’s a relatively high percentage, according to elder care advocates.
Nursing homes across the state have been pushed to reduce use of antipsychotic medications on older patients as part of a federal program (Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes) that set the goal of dropping use of the drugs at least 15 percent between 2012 and 2014. Researchers with the inspector general previously discovered older nursing home residents were frequently being given the drugs, despite the fact that the practice violates government safety standards. In essence, it’s become a type of chemical restraint, a way to subdue patients so they are less difficult for staffers to handle.
Maine far surpassed that 15-percent goal, reducing its percentage of elderly nursing home patients on antipsychotic medications by 33 percent. In the final quarter of 2011, Maine nursing homes reported more than 27 percent of patients – close to a third – were prescribed antipsychotic drugs. In comparison, in the second quarter of 2014, little more than 18 percent received the medications.
Put another way, we now have roughly 1,230 elderly nursing home residents receiving these dangerous drugs, where we once had around 1,860.
This is progress, but it’s clearly not enough when there are still patients who are receiving drugs that we know are clearly perilous to their health. On a national scale, long-term elderly nursing care facilities reduced their rate by little more than 18 percent, from roughly 24 percent of patients to about 19.5 percent.
Some facilities opened up about how they weaned their patients – and their staffers – from reliance on these medications. Rather than injecting frantic patients with medications, one administrator said, staff are now trained to take them to a “multi-sensory” room where there is soft music, dim lighting and sweet smells to help induce calm.
Yet grave concern remains for those patients who continue to unnecessarily receive these dangerous medications.
For inquiries regarding nursing home injuries Bangor, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Fewer Maine nursing home residents treated with risky antipsychotic drugs, Dec. 9, 2014, By Jackie Farwell, Bangor Daily News
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Maine Nursing Home Death Investigated by Safety Officials, Dec. 27, 2014, Bangor Nursing Home Injury Lawyer Blog