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Some dementia patients given anti-psychotic medication

KANSAS CITY, Mo. >> The use of dangerous medicines to sedate seniors with dementia has been a well-documented problem in nursing homes. But according to a new study published by AARP, the problem is deeper.

AARP researcher Elizabeth Carter found that the improper use of anti-psychotic drugs is growing for seniors with dementia in assisted living or who live with family.

“I think there’s been a lot of interest (in the study) and a lot of surprise because the focus has traditionally been on the nursing home setting,” Carter said.

Using Medicare Advantage data, Carter found that 13.4 percent of seniors with dementia outside of nursing homes were prescribed an anti-psychotic in 2015, even though they didn’t have the mental health conditions those drugs are intended to treat.

That’s up from 12.6 percent in 2012, while the use of the drugs in nursing homes has been dropping. “To see an increase, even if it was a slight increase — I think that surprised a lot of people,” Carter said.

Mitzi McFatrich, the executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, said years of federal attention to over-medication in nursing homes has made medical directors at facilities more aware of the dangers of anti-psychotics, which carry risks of falls, stroke and other side effects.

“There might not have been the same kind of education among physicians in the community,” McFatrich said.

The federal government embarked on a campaign to curb anti-psychotic use in nursing homes in 2012, when nearly 25 percent of residents nationwide were being prescribed the drugs.

The national rate has dropped to 15 percent.

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