In a move that family caregivers feel is long overdue, the federal government is launching an investigation into the inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes. Specifically, the government will be looking at the suspicious rise in schizophrenia cases and determine if the spike is being used as a workaround to use antipsychotic drugs to sedate difficult patients and make them more manageable for staff.
This is not a new issue, especially for family caregivers of those with dementia. I’ve written about it multiple times on this blog in relation to my father’s experience. My father was given risperidone, a drug used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disease, at the memory care facility he resided in during the last year of his life. The doctor didn’t deny when I confronted him about the drug and how it was used to make dementia patients zombies and more compliant for staff.
After my father’s death, I reported the issue to the appropriate state agency, but never received a response. The federal government claimed in 2013 that antipsychotic use in nursing homes was on the decline. That remains true but only for the population not diagnosed with schizophrenia. There is also a troubling racial disparity, with Black nursing home residents being diagnosed with schizophrenia at higher rates than their white counterparts.
CMS will conduct audits and nursing homes showing a pattern of diagnosing schizophrenia incorrectly may see their public ratings impacted. CMS will monitor the nursing homes not in compliance to make sure corrections are implemented. It’s not known at this time if fines will be implemented for those nursing homes who continue to be out of compliance. Also, patients’ families will not be informed if their loved one was incorrectly diagnosed. Make sure to request a list of the drugs your loved one has been prescribed and question any medications that don’t seem appropriate.
Photo by Bruno Guerrero on Unsplash.
This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug to treat those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The approval of lecanemab was welcomed by the Alzheimer’s Association, who urged the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to cover the cost for its members. Some members of the medical community have a more guarded view of this latest Alzheimer’s treatment, encouraging families to talk to their providers to understand the benefits and risks.
Here are some facts to know about lecanemab:
- The drug, made by Eisai in collaboration with Biogen, is for those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia stage of disease and confirmed presence of amyloid beta pathology, according to the FDA.
- In a study cited by the FDA, those who took the drug experienced a statistically significant reduction in brain amyloid plaque versus those in the placebo group. While the connection between the presence of amyloid plaque in the brain and Alzheimer’s is still up for scientific debate, the study also showed that lecanemab resulted in moderately less decline on measures of cognition and function than taking a placebo.
- There are potentially serious side effects that need to be considered before beginning the medication. In addition to infusion reactions, there were reports of brain swelling and bleeding (what the drugmakers call ARIA: amyloid related imaging abnormalities.) Three deaths of those in the study have been potentially linked to lecanemab.
- The drug costs $26,500 per patient annually. As stated above, CMS has not approved payment for the new drug yet, meaning that only those who can afford to pay for it out of pocket will have access to the treatment for now. The Alzheimer’s Association has formally requested that CMS “remove the requirement that Medicare beneficiaries be enrolled in a research study in order to receive coverage of FDA-approved Alzheimer’s treatments.”
- What you should ask your doctor: Before starting lecanemab, it is advisable to get genetic testing to determine whether the patient has the APOE4 gene, because the study showed that ARIA events were more common in those with that gene. Those on blood thinners should also talk to their doctor about increased risks.
A doctor interviewed by CNN said that lecanemab is another tool that he can add to his toolbox for treating Alzheimer’s disease. Families considering the drug for their loved one should understand that overall the drug’s benefits were modest and weigh that benefit to the potentially serious risks of taking the drug. For some families, the potential to slow down the cognitive decline of their loved ones will be worth that risk.
Just like with cancer, we all wish for a miracle drug or other form of treatment that would offer an instant and complete cure for Alzheimer’s. The reality is more like taking baby steps in the treatment development process, but those small steps can grow into better care and results over time.