NY Times had an article about the overuse of certain medications in elderly residents. Below are excerpts of the article.
Ramona Lamascola thought she was losing her 88-year-old mother to dementia. Instead, she was losing her to overmedication. Last fall her mother, Theresa Lamascola, of the Bronx, suffering from anxiety and confusion, was put on the antipsychotic drug Risperdal. When she had trouble walking, her daughter took her to another doctor — the younger Ms. Lamascola’s own physician — who found that she had unrecognized hypothyroidism, a disorder that can contribute to dementia.
Theresa Lamascola was moved to a nursing home to get these problems under control. But things only got worse. “My mother was screaming and out of it, drooling on herself and twitching,” said Ms. Lamascola, a pediatric nurse. The psychiatrist in the nursing home stopped the Risperdal, which can cause twitching and vocal tics, and prescribed a sedative and two other antipsychotics.
“I knew the drugs were doing this to her,” her daughter said. “I told him to stop the medications and stay away from Mom.”
Not until yet another doctor took Mrs. Lamascola off the drugs did she begin to improve.
The use of antipsychotic drugs to tamp down the agitation, combative behavior and outbursts of dementia patients has soared, especially in the elderly. Sales of newer antipsychotics like Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa totaled $13.1 billion in 2007, up from $4 billion in 2000, according to IMS Health, a health care information company.
Part of this increase can be traced to prescriptions in nursing homes. Researchers estimate that about a third of all nursing home patients have been given antipsychotic drugs. [Blogger’s note: Typically these medications are used as “chemical restraints” to quiet the residents down–a sure sign of understaffing.]
The increases continue despite a drumbeat of bad publicity. A 2006 study of Alzheimer’s patients found that for most patients, antipsychotics provided no significant improvement over placebos in treating aggression and delusions.
In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration ordered that the newer drugs carry a “black box” label warning of an increased risk of death. Last week, the F.D.A. required a similar warning on the labels of older antipsychotics. The agency has not approved marketing of these drugs for older people with dementia, but they are commonly prescribed to these patients “off label.” Several states are suing the top sellers of antipsychotics on charges of false and misleading marketing.
Ambre Morley, a spokeswoman for Janssen, the division of Johnson & Johnson that manufactures Risperdal, would not comment on the suits, but said: “As with any medication, the prescribing of a medication is up to a physician. We only promote our products for F.D.A.-approved indications.”
Nevertheless, many doctors say misuse of the drugs is widespread. “These antipsychotics can be overused and abused,” said Dr. Johnny Matson, a professor of psychology at Louisiana State University. “And there’s a lot of abuse going on in a lot of these places.”
Dr. William D. Smucker, a member of the American Medical Directors Association, a group of health professionals who work in nursing homes, agreed. Though the group encourages doctors to conduct a thorough assessment and prescribe antipsychotics only as a last resort, he said, “Many physicians are absent without leave in the nursing home and don’t take an active role in the assessment of the patient.”
Nursing homes are short staffed, and insurers do not generally pay for the attentive medical care and hands-on psychosocial therapy that advocates recommend. It is much easier to use sedatives and antipsychotics, despite their side effects.
Common causes of the symptoms include ministrokes, reparable brain hemorrhage from a mild bump on the head, hypothyroidism, dehydration, malnourishment, depression and sleep disorders.
The Medicare Web site has basic information on individual homes at www.medicare.gov/NHcompare. The National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, at www.nccnhr.org, offers a consumer guide to choosing a nursing home.
Theresa Lamascola still has dementia, but she went from confinement in a wheelchair — unable to sit still and screaming out in fear — to being able to walk with help, sit peacefully, have some memory and ability to communicate, understand subtleties of conversations and even make jokes.
Or, as her daughter put it, “I got my mother back.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 25, 2008
An article on Tuesday about the use of antipsychotic drugs in dementia patients misspelled the names of two drugs in a different class, sometimes used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. They are Exelon and Namenda, not Exalon and Menamda.