Does grandma hear voices? Does grandpa think the FBI is tracking him or that President Obama wants to kill him? If not, their nursing home probably shouldn’t be giving them antipsychotic medications typically given to schizophrenics, but it probably is.
Last November, Department of Health & Human Services Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson spoke before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. There, he reported that:
- 83 percent of Medicare claims for atypical (second generation) antipsychotic drugs for elderly nursing home patients were prescribed for off-label uses;
- 88 percent of atypical antipsychotic drug claims were for residents with dementia;
- 14 percent of nursing home residents, or nearly 305,000 patients, had Medicare claims for atypical antipsychotic drugs;
- Half of these drug claims should not have been paid for by Medicare because the drugs were not used for medically accepted indications; and
- For 1 in 5 drug claims, nursing homes dispensed these drugs in a way that violated the Government’s standards for their use.
Likewise, a 2009 study of antipsychotic drug use in the Veterans Affairs system showed that 60.2 percent of those patients taking antipsychotic drugs “had no recorded diagnosis that justified the prescription.”
Levinson went on to say that, “[N]ursing homes often fail to comply with regulations designed to prevent overmedication of these powerful and, at times, dangerous drugs.”
Levinson acknowledged that while the FDA approves drugs for specific purposes, doctors are allowed to prescribe them for other – off-label – uses. He stressed that there’s a reason why the FDA “imposed a strong safety warning on atypical antipsychotics, emphasizing an increased risk of death when used by elderly patients with dementia.” He also noted that nursing homes will often prescribe an antipsychotic drug for a symptom like agitation without first determining why the patient is agitated.
So, you may wonder, what is the difference between schizopherenia and dementia?
According to MedicineNet, schizophrenics:
- are out of touch with reality;
- may hear voices, think that other people know what they’re thinking, or think that someone is out to get them; and
- are easily excitable or angered.
Psych Central states that patients with dementia:
- ask the same questions over and over again;
- get lost in places they should know well;
- are incapable of following directions; and
- become disoriented about time, people, and places.
But both schizophrenics and dementia patients may:
- neglect their appearance and hygiene
- show disregard for their safety;
- spend a lot of time alone or in bed; and
- saying things that don’t make sense.
There’s a lot more to each condition, of course, but the fact that there are commonalities shows the need for nursing homes to pay attention to their patients, so they’ll notice an onset of symptoms and be able to distinguish one condition from another.
Unfortunately, nursing home neglect is nothing new, as Spangenberg Shibley & Liber attorney Nick DiCello commented on in a blog post earlier this year. But now HealthDay.com reports that 1 in 5 new nursing home patients fall in their first month of residency. It attributed this statistic to a lack of certified nursing assistants to help patients dress, use the restroom, or move around the home.
So if controlling the elderly through mind-altering medications and not paying attention to them falls under the category of care, why are we spending thousands of dollars each year to put our beloved parents and grandparents in homes?
If you feel that nursing home staff neglected a loved one, and it led to an injury, please be sure to have an experienced trial attorney review the facts of your case.