How Nursing Homes in the United States Over-medicate People with Dementia

https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/02/05/they-want-docile/how-nursing-homes-united-states-overmedicate-people-dementia

This report estimates that every week in US nursing facilities, more than 179,000 people, mostly older and living with dementia, are given antipsychotic drugs without an appropriate diagnosis. Facilities administer these drugs in many cases without obtaining informed consent from residents or their families. 

In an average week, nursing facilities in the United States administer antipsychotic drugs to over 179,000 people who do not have diagnoses for which the drugs are approved. The drugs are often given without free and informed consent, which requires a decision based on a discussion of the purpose, risks, benefits, and alternatives to the medical intervention as well as the absence of pressure or coercion in making the decision. Most of these individuals—like most people in nursing homes—have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. According to US Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis, facilities often use the drugs to control common symptoms of the disease.While these symptoms can be distressing for the people who experience them, their families, and nursing facility staff, evidence from clinical trials of the benefits of treating these symptoms with antipsychotic drugs is weak. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) never approved them for this use and has warned against its use for these symptoms. Studies find that on average, antipsychotic drugs almost double the risk of death in older people with dementia. When the drugs are administered without informed consent, people are not making the choice to take such a risk.

The drugs’ sedative effect, rather than any anticipated medical benefit, too often drives the high prevalence of use in people with dementia. Antipsychotic drugs alter consciousness and can adversely affect an individual’s ability to interact with others. They can also make it easier for understaffed facilities, with direct care workers inadequately trained in dementia care, to manage the people who live there. In many facilities, inadequate staff numbers and training make it nearly impossible to take an individualized, comprehensive approach to care. Many nursing facilities have staffing levels well below what experts consider the minimum needed to provide appropriate care.Federal regulations require individuals to be fully informed about their treatment and provide the right to refuse treatment. Some state laws require informed consent prior to the administration of antipsychotic drugs to nursing home residents. Yet nursing facilities often fail to obtain consent or even to make any effort to do so. While all medical interventions should follow from informed consent, it is particularly egregious to administer a drug posing such severe risks and little chance of benefit without it.Such nonconsensual use and use without an appropriate medical indication are inconsistent with human rights norms. The drugs’ use as a chemical restraint—for staff convenience or to discipline or punish a resident—could constitute abuse under domestic law and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under international law….[   ]

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