A recent article in the New York Times has set off a firestorm of controversy. The investigative piece found that overtaxed facility staff in nursing homes and other facilities were prescribing and administering Haldol, a potent antipsychotic sedative for schizophrenia, to difficult to control residents. This is a common practice with estimates of a 70% increase in use since 2012. That adds up to prescriptions for 1 in 9 residents despite schizophrenia afflicting only about 1 in 150 people in the general population.
These so-called chemical straight jackets are convenient for overtaxed staff at eldercare facilities that do not want to (or cannot) hire additional staff. Unfortunately, it is dangerous for older residents with dementia – the misdiagnosed drug nearly doubles the likelihood of heart problems, infections, falls, and other illnesses. The issue gets worse because a loophole allows facilities to erase the prescription of those misdiagnosed with schizophrenia from public records, thus effectively obscuring any evidence of abuse to vulnerable residents.
Why is this occurring?
Schizophrenia is nearly always diagnosed in people under 40-years-old. The illness typically causes hallucinations, delusions, and the dampening of emotions. While dementia in the elderly may appear similar, “People don’t just wake up with schizophrenia when they are elderly,” one geriatrician and former nursing home executive told the Times. Journalists crunched public data and found that 21% of these patients, who actually have dementia, are prescribed antipsychotic drugs. Overall, schizophrenic diagnoses rose from 7% in 2012 to 11% in 2021. Nearly one-third of diagnosed nursing home residents had no previous record of treatment for the condition.
Why the coverup?
The eldercare facilities are trying to keep the number of these prescriptions quiet for several reasons:
- It can highlight staffing shortages
- It impacts the government rating with unusually high documented use of antipsychotic drugs
Loved ones can take action
Those with loved ones living in eldercare facilities should continually monitor the health care that the resident receives. It is undoubtedly a red flag if someone over 40 showing no signs of schizophrenia is diagnosed with it. The matter only becomes more distressing if the misdiagnosis then leads to more health issues or even death. If this occurs in your family, you may want to consult an attorney who handles medical malpractice or elder abuse claims.