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Recognizing and Responding to Unmet Needs of Dementia Patients Lowers Use of Antipsychotic Drugs

Researchers in Massachusetts have found that training nursing home staff to recognize ‘unmet needs’ of dementia patients leads to a reduction in the use of antipsyhoctic drugs. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.

The study, published in the April edition of JAMA, was led by Dr. Jennifer Tjia, a physician and professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Tjia and her fellow researchers studied outcomes from nursing homes that implemented Oasis, an intervention program for dementia patients that seeks to restore dignity to elderly dementia patients by addressing the underlying issues behind their distress and behavioral problems. The motivation for the study was to not only reduce the overuse of antipsychotic drugs (shown to increase stroke risk in the elderly), but to also increase humane treatment of the elderly. Dr. Tjia told JAMA that “We don’t medicate babies when they cry or act out, because we assume that they have a need that we need to address. However, when people with dementia are unable to communicate, the current approach medicates them when they have undesirable behaviors.”

Oasis Program Shows Promise in Reducing Use of Unnecessary Medications
The study followed 93 nursing homes over 9 months in Massachusetts that adopted the Oasis program. The results were compared to 800 nursing homes throughout Massachusetts and New York state that had not implemented the program. The 93 facilities that followed the Oasis model were found to have a 7% drop in the use of antipsychotic medications.

With the success of Oasis proven in Massachusetts, nearby states are moving to adopt the program, including New York, Vermont, and Connecticut. According to the program founder, geriatric psychiatrist Susan Wehry, M.D., the goal is to continue educating Master Trainers who will then take on the task of training individual nursing homes to begin using the program.

So far there is no word of the program spreading to the Midwest but with any hope, a focus on alternative medicine for easing dementia symptoms in nursing home residents will become the norm instead of the standard.