The rampant and dangerous use of antipsychotic drugs to treat dementia symptoms in elderly patients has been in the spotlight recently due to Johnson & Johnson being hit with a $2 billion fine for the false marketing of Risperdal. Could the answer to this disturbing trend be yet another medication?
A drug called Pimavaserin is undergoing a trial right now to examine its safety in treating Alzheimer’s disease psychosis. Currently there is no medication on the market that specifically treats this condition, and we’ve seen the consequences of the off-label use of other antipsychotic drugs. I saw what Risperdal did to my father and readers of this blog were vocal about their concerns in properly medicating those with dementia.
One would hope that a medication can be created to ease the mental and emotional suffering of dementia patients without turning them into walking zombies.
Data released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services found that antipsychotic drug use in nursing homes has declined 9.1 percent for the first quarter of 2013. In 2010, over 17 percent of nursing home patients had daily doses exceeding recommended levels. The CMS launched the National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care last year and hopes to reduce antipsychotic drug usage by 15 percent by the end of 2013.
The overuse of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes, especially to sedate dementia patients is an issue that strikes home for me. I watched my father suffer the consequences of being kept in a zombie state on these drugs. While I can’t know if my dad suffered while on these medications, my mother certainly did as she visited my father in this drugged state on a regular basis. My father only showed minimal aggression which probably could have been treated with behavorial therapy or milder drugs with less side effects. The main reason he was so heavily drugged was because like many dementia patients, he wandered.
I do feel for the understaffed, overworked and underpaid nursing home staff, who have no doubt found it easier to give patients a pill to keep them from becoming another problem to deal with. There is no easy solution, but filling helpless people full of drugs is not the answer.
Let’s hope the CMS initiative continues to be successful.