Romana Lamascola’s mother, Theresa Lamascola, suffered from dementia. When she became anxious and confused at the age of 88, she was placed an anti-psychotic drug Risperdal; when she began having trouble walking, she saw a doctor who diagnosed her with hypothyroidism, which can contribute to dementia, and she was placed in a nursing home. However, Ms. Lamascola’s health did not get better in the nursing home, rather it got worse, she began screaming, twitching, and drooling on herself. It was not the dementia, however, that caused these symptoms, it was the drugs prescribed to control agitation, combativeness, and outbursts associated with dementia patients. When Ms. Lamascola was taken off Risperdal, she began improving.
It is estimated that one-third of all nursing home patients have received antipsychotic medications. While antipsychotics are continually receiving bad publicity, use of them has actually increased. For example, in 2006 a study showed that using antipsychotic drugs on Alzheimer’s patients gave no significant improvement in treating aggression and delusions when compared to placebos for most patients. Yet, between 2000 and 2007 sales of newer antipsychotics rose from $4 billion to $13.1 billion.
Nursing homes have alternatives, such as using psychosocial components in treatment that allow residents to be mentally and physically stimulated, like exercise and playing with animals. Overusing drugs like Risperdol may be nursing home neglect. In finding a nursing home for a loved one that will be more likely to use alternative means of care rather than overusing antipsychotics, look for homes with low employee turnover, a high ratio of staff to patients, and programs that use psychosocial components. For a more in-depth discussion of the overuse of antipsychotic drugs click here.