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The use of “chemical straitjackets” in nursing homes


The plight of nursing home residents struggling through a pandemic has been well documented. Banner headlines detailed the numerous deaths that occurred in facilities nationwide. Perhaps all the focus on the impact of a worldwide pandemic brought little attention to a recently discovered and highly startling statistic.

The New York Times conducted an investigation that revealed approximately 21 percent of patients are perpetually on antipsychotic drugs, many without any signs of mental illness.

Are cases of schizophrenia skyrocketing?

Also known as “chemical straitjackets,” the potent medication presents potentially deadly dangers for the older population suffering from dementia. Continuing use can increase the possibility of death from various illnesses that range from infections to heart problems. Due to those potential risks, the U.S. government requires nursing homes to provide reports on the number of residents on the medication.

Medicare data has found that schizophrenia diagnoses in nursing homes have skyrocketed 70 percent over the past nine years. Presently one in nine are diagnosed with schizophrenia compared to the general population that sees one in 150 people who have the mental illness.

Nearly every schizophrenia diagnosis occurs before a patient is 40 years old. A 2018 study revealed that one-third of long-term residents diagnosed with schizophrenia did not have anything on their Medicare record that they were treated for the condition in the past.

The care needed for dementia patients takes significant amounts of time and work. Employees must be trained to deal with the challenges that include wandering and aggressive acts. Additionally, a shortage in staffing levels creates a perfect storm of catastrophe that sees antipsychotics used to subdue residents and ease the burden on an already depleted staff.

Loved ones of elderly nursing home residents must be vigilant in staying on top of the medications administered to their loved ones. However, that creates a likely “David vs. Goliath” dynamic that may necessitate legal help.