Stop Overmedicating the Elderly

Helene Zeiger

Target: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Marilyn Tavenner

Goal: Punish nursing homes for administering potentially lethal medications to seniors

Antipsychotic medications have proven extremely effective in treating people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but they have also proven harmful and even deadly when used to treat common mental illnesses in seniors, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Yet nearly 300,000 residents in U.S. nursing homes today receive antipsychotic medications, according to NPR, and nursing homes are rarely penalized for the misuse.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) affixed labels to the popular antipsychotic, Seroquel, warning of the dangers of the drug’s use in the elderly in 2008. Sadly, that measure has restricted but not stopped nursing homes from providing the drug to senior patients. Recognizing the rampant abuse of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes, the federal government launched a campaign in 2012 to help reduce the instance of abuse, but surprisingly few nursing homes were penalized for providing drugs like Seroquel with the knowledge that they put patients at a higher mortality risk.

Federal initiatives have decreased the number of elderly caregivers administering antipsychotics to below 20 percent nationwide, but the areas where rates refuse to budge see very limited penalties. In Texas, more than one-quarter of nursing home residents are still receiving antipsychotic medications.

The drugs are often used to restrain violent or uncooperative residents who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s and are more likely to act out aggressively than residents not suffering from such severe mental degradation. Often some form of restraint and medication is helpful to calm them and make them feel more safe and comfortable, but antipsychotics are a dangerous and unnecessary solution when so many alternatives exist.

The most effective approach to such behavior is outlined in the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which emphasizes individualized treatment instead of blanket cures. Understanding the patients’ individual needs and desires can greatly help to mitigate their stress levels and make them feel more content. Sometimes the solution to an outburst from an elderly patient who would rather play a game than go outside is to simply let her play. A patient who worked nights all his life and prefers to stay up late does not need to be sedated to sleep.

Our elderly citizens deserve as much respect and care as they can be afforded. Over-sedating them with harmful drugs is disrespectful at best and can easily be avoided. Sign this petition and demand that nursing homes be punished for inappropriately administering antipsychotic drugs to the elderly.


Dear Ms. Tavenner,

The use of antipsychotic drugs on elderly patients is known to the FDA to put them at an increased risk of mortality and health complications, yet many nursing homes across the U.S. still use drugs like Seroquel to sedate patients. Despite government intervention to stem the drugs’ abuse—which has reduced the number of residents receiving such medications by 15 percent nationally—the practice has yet to be eradicated. Nearly 20 percent of nursing home residents are still given doses of these potentially lethal medications, and nursing homes that do not comply face little-to-no penal action as a result. Facilities in Texas currently administer the largest amount of antipsychotic drugs, but see fewer penalties for it than do other states.

Training facilities in individualized care is important and the nation’s nursing homes have managed to limit the number of residents still receiving antipsychotics, but the only way to effectively ban the drugs’ use is to ensure that homes are penalized for such abuse.

I urge you to implement penalties for nursing homes that endanger senior citizens and fail to treat them with respect.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Ulrich Joho via Flickr

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