Spending the twilight of your life in an assisted-care facility is not something most people dream about. Although there are great options that encourage independence and good quality of life, they are not the images usually conjured up when thinking about such places. Instead, thoughts of constant supervision, boredom, and monotony come to mind.
Another common concern regarding assisted-care facilities is safety. It can be hard to just trust the staff in many of these places. And really, why should you? You’ve spent a lifetime building relationships and doing things independently, and now you’re just supposed to trust a team of strangers with your life? It can be very unsettling.
A new report out of Ontario, Canada offers some startling information about the treatment of seniors living in nursing homes. A study commissioned by the provincial government found that an alarming number of seniors in nursing homes are being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs and sedatives. The report notes that such drugs are being “overprescribed,” which is not only dangerous, but also severely limits the quality of life for the people living in these facilities. In fact, some of the drugs being used are unapproved by the Ontario government.
Nearly half—45%—of seniors living in Ontario nursing homes between the ages of 65 and 79 are on prescribed anti-psychotic drugs, while 30% are on sedatives. The reasoning is three-fold. First off, the drugs are considered to be completely safe. This is not the case, however. These drugs can have side effects and severely limit the quality of life of the people who take them. These drugs can lead to increased falls, bedsores, and blood clots, and can cause adverse reactions in some patients, while increasing the risk of death in others.
Secondly, the drugs are overprescribed because of staff shortages. There are not enough workers on board to effectively care for residents, so it appears the residents are essentially drugged up in order to become more manageable. After all, you don’t need many employees to supervise a room full of sedated individuals.
Lastly, some assisted-care facilities probably believe that over-prescription is the easiest way to treat residents who might wander or become aggressive or agitated. Instead of finding ways to improve the quality of life or treat these resident issues, the solution seems to be to drug the life out of people.
What’s scary is that these drugs can potentially kill people with dementia, a common problem facing the elderly. The drugs that are being prescribed can increase the risk of death by 60% in dementia patients. And an independent investigation by the Toronto Star newspaper found that, in some cases, the drugs are being administered without consent.
These results are scary for anybody considering or currently living in a nursing home, whether you live in Canada or the U.S. Staff shortages, uninformed doctors, and over-prescription of antipsychotic drugs and sedatives are factors that are turning the worst nightmares people have of these facilities into reality.
Of course, in some cases assisted-living facilities are required, so it’s important to do your homework and find out as much as you can about the options in your area. Make sure the facility is well-staffed, its residents seem happy and active, and the on-site staff seems attentive and engaged.
Source for Today’s Article:
Bruser, D., “Antipsychotic Drugs Prescribed to Seniors At Alarming Rates, Province Finds,” Toronto Star web site, April 21, 2014; http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/04/21/antipsychotic_drugs_prescribed_to_seniors_at_alarming_rates_province_finds.html, last accessed May 6, 2014.