As part of a Policy Series, the Consumer Voice–one of the nation’s leading senior care advocacy groups–recently created a brief on an important piece of federal legislation. If passed, the new measure, known as Senate Bill S. 3604, would be a helpful step forwars in ensuring proper care is provided to one particularly vulnerable group of nursing home residents–those with cognitive conditions like dementia.
Senate Bill S. 3604
The bill is referred to as the Improving Dementia Care for Older Americans Act. The focus of the measure is simple: eliminate the chemical abuse of residents with antipsychotic medication drugs. As elder care attorneys and other advocates have consistently shown, many long-term care facilities continue to have a hair-trigger response when it comes to prescribing these powerful medications to control seniors, particularly those with dementia. Not only is this over-use severely detrimental to these resident’s quality of life, but it is downright dangerous. Prescription drug experts have explained vociferously that use of these drugs on dementia residents poses serious risks, including death.
To address the problem, the bill would address the problem in 4 main ways:
1) Require Informed Consent. The law would ensure that nursing homes could not begin administering the drugs without clear, informed consent from the resident or their representative. Informed consense, of course, requires an hoenst discussion about the risks and the real effect that the medications would have on the resident. Many seniors (and their families) would never agree to this kind of treatment if they knew of the consequences and the way that it often throws residents into a “stupor.” At the very least it seems like common sense that the providers are forced to be honest about the situation and get consent before moving forward.
2) Create Program to Educate Providers. S. 3604 also calls for the creation of progams to provide more information to the parties who may prescribe the medication, including doctors. The training would include detailed information about the best available alternatives to controlling issues besides resort to the drugs. Many caregivers simply are not aware of those others alternatives, leading them to prescribe the antipsychotic medication more than necessary.
3) Review Unapproved Use Reports by FDA. If passed, the law would require nursing homes to review reports prepared by the U.S Food and Drug Administration every month on the unapproved uses of these medications. This is so the facility can change their policies quickly in response to new information on the consequences of the drugs as outlined by the FDA.
4) Study the Misuse of These Drugs Outside the Nursing Home. Finally, S. 3604 also calls for a study to be conducted to gauge the dangers of these prescriptions in settings outside the nursing home, like hospitals. For good reaosn most of the focus on curbing these dangeorus drug abuses has been on nursing homes, but that does not mean the the problem does not exist elsewhere. This effort will provide more information on the style and scope of the problem in those other settings so that unique remedies can be crafted if necessary.
Nursing home policy, federal regulation, and civil justice accountability are always intwinded in various ways. All those who care about ensuring the best possible quality of life for our seniors should stand in support of this measure.
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