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GAO Issues Report Concerning Overuse of Antipsychotic Drugs in Older Americans, Especially Those in Nursing Homes

Written March 30, 2015

Many older adults are on some type of medication. As long as the benefits outweigh the potential risks, this is usually acceptable. There are, however, some drugs that are of a heightened concern to the elderly, especially nursing home residents who are totally dependent upon others for their care. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently issued a report concerning one particular type of medication – antipsychotic drugs – amongst older adults, including those in nursing homes.

The Reasons for the Report

Because of concerns about the use of antipsychotic drugs to address behavioral symptoms like agitation or aggression in older adults, the GAO was asked to take a look at prescriptions for psychotropic drugs for the elderly. In the study, the GAO addressed the extent to which such drugs are prescribed for older adults with dementia both inside and outside of nursing homes, factors contributing to such prescriptions, and the extent to which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) had attempted to reduce the use of such drugs amongst the elderly.

The Finding of the GAO’s Study

First, the study noted that dementia affects approximately 15% of adults over the age of 70 and that it can cause a variety of behavioral symptoms including declining memory, agitation, mood changes, loss of communication, and agitation. While the use of antipsychotic drugs is common in dementia patients, the FDA’s “boxed warning” indicates that such drugs can increase the risk of falls and even death when used by older adults with dementia and that such drugs are not approved for this use.

For the year 2012, approximately 14% of dementia patients living outside of nursing homes were prescribed an antipsychotic medication, while about 33% of those older adults with dementia who spent 100+ days in a nursing home received antipsychotic drugs. The GAO’s research indicated that patient agitation or delusions are often the triggering factors for an antipsychotic drug, but that there are also some setting-specific characteristics involved in many cases. According to the experts with whom the GAO spoke, it is fairly common for antipsychotic drug use to be initiated in a hospital setting and then be carried over upon a dementia patient’s admission to a nursing home. Notably, both the experts and the GAO’s research revealed that low staffing levels in a nursing facility often lead to higher antipsychotic drug use.

The GAO’s Recommendations

The GAO study found that the HSS has begun to address antipsychotic drug use by older adults in nursing homes through its National Alzheimer’s Plan, but it found that additional outreach and education efforts need to be taken with regard to those older dementia sufferers who do not reside in nursing homes.

Speak to an Experienced Nursing Home Attorney in New York

While the GAO’s recommendations may be a step in the right direction, nursing home residents are still at too high of a risk for abuse, neglect, and malpractice. If you have reason to believe that a loved one has suffered mistreatment in a nursing home in the state of New York, please consider contacting our office for an appointment with one of our knowledgeable nursing home litigation lawyers. You can reach us a (516) 394-4200. We accept many cases on a contingency fee basis, so often no legal fees are required to get your case started.

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