A new study released this week by the Human Rights Watch found that many nursing home residents are needlessly being given antipsychotic drugs. The 157 page report titled “They Want Docile’: How Nursing Homes in the United States Overmedicate People with Dementia,” found that approximately 179,000 people, mostly those suffering from dementia, are being given antipsychotic drugs every week in US nursing homes in an attempt to control their behavior. Facilities administer these drugs without the proper diagnosis and in many cases without obtaining informed consent from residents or their families. This is also being done in the face of an FDA warning that these drugs can almost double the risk of death for elderly dementia patients.
The drugs are being predominately used for their sedative effect, rather than any medical benefits. Nursing homes are using these drugs as a cost-effective and simple way for understaffed and overwhelmed facilities to control its residents. Many nursing homes have an inadequate amount of staff to properly care for the amount of residents in their facilities. This leads to the staff cutting corners and finding shortcuts to deal with the stress of caring for elderly dementia residents. However, it is the residents that suffer when the staff cut these corners.
Federal law requires that nursing facilities fully inform their residents about their treatment and the resident has the right to refuse that treatment. There are also some state laws that require informed consent in order for these antipsychotic medications to be given to nursing home residents. The study found that many nursing home staff members admitted to often failing to obtain consent or even to attempting to do so.