Once people have aged to the point that they can no longer take care of themselves independently, it is commonly thought that it is time to move into an assisted living facility or a nursing home. One would think that one could confidently enjoy one’s golden years receiving quality care in such a place. When an elderly parent or relative is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, one especially wants a guarantee that the elderly person will be well cared for. Unfortunately, this is not the case right now in Florida.

The Miami Herald recently published a series of articles on abuse and neglect of elderly residents in many of Florida’s assisted living facilities. Some were deprived of essentials like food, water and air conditioning. One facility, in particular, beat the residents, doped them with powerful tranquilizers and conditions were described as not even being fit for a dog. Several unnecessary deaths occurred as a result of this abuse and neglect despite reports of violations to the authorities overseeing these facilities.

There are almost three thousand assisted living facilities in the state of Florida. Since 2002, seventy people have died from abuse or neglect while living in one of these places. Illegal restraints such as ropes, locking the resident in the closet and drugging elderly residents with major tranquilizers has occurred in well over half of these facilities.

Physical abuse and neglect hopefully will be handled and corrected by the proper authorities, but what about drugging the elderly for the sole purpose of sedating them to make them manageable? Isn’t that a form of abuse? Is the goal now to sedate and subdue seniors as opposed to individualized care and help?

Seniors with dementia have demonstrated difficult and unruly behavior, but caregivers and staff have often misunderstood patients’ complaints about physical ailments. As a result, they have given antipsychotics to manage the behavior when the drugs were not needed. For example, an elderly person kept protesting whenever someone tried to move her and was given an antipsychotic, only to find out later that an x-ray showed a broken hip. An eighty-nine year old woman was discharged from a hospital and put in a nursing home to recover from a broken hip. She did not have dementia or any symptom warranting psychiatric drugs but was given an antipsychotic anyway.

The FDA has not approved antipsychotics to treat dementia as there is an increased risk of death among the elderly if these drugs are taken. A Black Box Warning has been issued specifically for this reason. Other side effects are an increased risk of stroke, diabetes and falls. In a recent federal report, fifty-one percent of Medicare claims for antipsychotics were prescribed incorrectly, indicating they are being given for reasons other than their intended use.

Instead of using antipsychotics as an easy behavior management tool, it would be better to find the cause of the undesirable behavior among seniors in these facilities. Perhaps more personal attention, more interactive activities, exercise and education would produce a more desired result as well. A facility in Minnesota did just this and within six months they had eliminated the use of antipsychotics entirely and cut the use of antidepressants in half. Instead of a drug-induced haze, the seniors were happy and full of life.

It would be wise to educate yourself about antipsychotic drugging of seniors and other abuse before putting someone you love in a home. Do your homework so your loved one’s golden years will be joyful.

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