Large amounts of nursing homes here in Texas are understaffed, creating a situation where the nurses are stretched too thin in the activities. Many of the residents have mental health issues that require extensive attention and can be challenging to deal with. The common person would expect the homes to just hire additional nurses to pick up some of the work, but in practice the nursing homes have decided on a cheaper, more sinister solution.
On average per week in the US, almost 200,000 nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia are being given antipsychotic drugs. These drugs are created to be used to treat or manage symptoms of various forms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, agitation, and psychotic disorders, which are much differ than the diagnosis these patients have. The benefits of this off-label use are “weak” to the patient and the FDA has explicitly warned against using them in this manner. According to Human Rights Watch, “The drugs’ sedative effect, rather than any anticipated medical benefit, too often drives the high prevalence of use in people with dementia. Antipsychotic drugs alter consciousness and can adversely affect an individual’s ability to interact with others. They can also make it easier for understaffed facilities, with direct care workers inadequately trained in dementia care, to manage the people who live there”. Often, these patients are given little or no information and chance to consent to such a dangerous drug that has direct connection to mortality. HRW went on to say, “The drugs’ use as a chemical restraint-for staff convenience or to discipline or punish a resident-could constitute abuse under domestic law and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under international law”.
Though the federal government and many states have laws to protect citizens from such abuse, regulation is weak as well as the punishments. Instead, the punishment for these actions often comes in the form of a lawsuit which still is not a sufficient deterrent.