Human Rights Watch Finds Nursing Homes Misuse Antipsychotics with Dementia Patients

A new 157-page report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), “‘They Want Docile’: How Nursing Homes in the United States Overmedicate People with Dementia,” details how nursing homes force hundreds of thousands of people to take antipsychotic drugs to control their dementia symptoms.


Researchers visited over 100 facilities and interviewed over 300 residents, family members, health professionals, pharmacists, and elderly care experts.


Facilities view these medications as a cheap restraint to stop residents’ behaviors and help staff manage their workload.


Some family members were not informed of the effects of antipsychotics while others agreed to allow their loved ones take antipsychotics as they felt their family members may face eviction if they refused.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never declared that antipsychotic drugs are effective or proper for treating dementia’s symptoms. On the contrary, the FDA warns that antipsychotics are very dangerous for dementia patients and can result in severe side effects such as spasmodic movements, blood clots, muscular rigidity, blood pressure below normal, and elevated blood sugar.


The report describes many options for nursing homes to cope with the symptoms of dementia without pharmaceuticals. Options include engaging residents in activities, curbing loneliness, establishing routines, fostering relationships with staff, providing exercise, and offering music and animal therapy.


When residents were weaned off the antipsychotic drugs, the nursing homes noticed marked improvement in patients’ memory and physical and mental wellbeing.


Today, in the US, there are approximately 50 million adults over 65, which will likely increase to 100 million by 2060. Currently, there are five million people in the US with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, which researchers believe may increase to 16 million by 2050.


The HRW report claims that responsibility lays with the government, as the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act requires them to protect residents and make sure they receive quality care. However, the administration has known about the overuse of antipsychotic medications for years but has not put in much effort to curb the process.


The report urges the government to help end the inappropriate administration of antipsychotics by enforcing regulations and penalties, improving inspections, requiring informed consent, and ensuring adequate staffing and training in care facilities. The report notes that without significant penalties, nursing homes will likely continue to ignore residents’ rights.


Domnick Cunningham & Yaffa has witnessed the erosion of nursing home resident’s rights in Florida over the last 15 years and has fought aggressively to protect our senior citizens and hold parties who harm them accountable for their bad acts. Nursing home residents are entitled to be treated courteously, fairly and with the fullest measure of dignity and they have the right to adequate and appropriate health care that prioritizes their needs and interests. This report illuminates yet another failure by nursing homes to protect the best interests of their residents and reinforces why we must be vigilant in ensuring their rights are protected.