Monitoring Antipsychotic Drug Use in Nursing Homes

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is investigating ways to improve the monitoring and safety of antipsychotic drugs commonly used in nursing homes.

Antipsychotic Drugs: Over-Prescribed in Nursing Homes

Antipsychotic drugs are commonly used in nursing homes to sedate patients and control certain behaviors that may cause self-injury or harm to other patients. According to national health officials and Medicare advocacy groups, prescribing antipsychotic drugs to nursing home Medicare and Medicaid patients has become a national epidemic.

The inspector general of Health and Human Services states that one-third of Medicare patients in nursing homes suffer preventable injuries due to antipsychotic drug use. Injuries are often linked to improper monitoring of which drugs are prescribed, what quantities and strengths are given, and how long drugs are taken.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some antipsychotic drugs have not been approved as safe for use in elderly patients. Antipsychotic drugs have serious side effects like sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression already experienced by many elderly adults. When drugs are not closely monitored, nursing home neglect lawyers regularly see serious injuries caused by falls, malnutrition, dehydration, seizures, hallucinations, and aggressive behaviors. Patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s are particularly at high risk for such injuries.

Drug Monitoring and Safety Issues

Over the last decade, serious nursing home quality and safety concerns have been raised about the high use of antipsychotic medications among nursing home patients. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has acknowledged inconsistencies in data provided by nursing homes related to monitoring the safety of patients on antipsychotic drugs.

In addition to injuries witnessed by nursing home neglect lawyers, CMS research shows that many nursing home patients do not give federally mandated “informed consent” to take antipsychotic drugs. When patients are not able to give informed consent due to health conditions or cognitive impairments, nursing homes are required by law to obtain consent from the patient’s family members. When antipsychotic drugs are given without consent, it may constitute a lawsuit for nursing home abuse.

While antipsychotic drugs have benefits for some nursing home patients, others should not be taking them due to certain existing health conditions. Nursing home patients must be examined and evaluated by a licensed physician before taking antipsychotic drugs. If drugs are given, patients must be closely monitored for known side effects, especially dementia and Alzheimer’s patients who have a high risk for heart attacks, strokes, and death due to side effects.


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