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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I got my mother back: Overuse of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes

Last fall, Theresa Lamascola of the Bronx, suffering from anxiety and confusion, was put on the antipsychotic drug Risperdal. When she had trouble walking, her daughter took her to another doctor, who found that she had unrecognized hypothyroidism, a disorder that can contribute to dementia.

She was moved to a nursing home to get the problems under control. But things only got worse. She "was screaming and out of it, drooling on herself and twitching," said her daughter, a nurse. The psychiatrist in the nursing home stopped the Risperdal, which can cause twitching and vocal tics, and prescribed a sedative and two other antipsychotics.

"I knew the drugs were doing this to her," said her daughter. "I told him to stop the medications and stay away from Mom."

Not until another doctor took her off the drugs did she begin to improve. He prescribed Aricept. "It's not clear whether it was getting her hypothyroid and other medical issues finally under control or getting rid of the offending medications. But she had a miraculous turnaround," said the new doctor.

She still has dementia but she went from confinement in a wheelchair – unable to sit still and screaming out in fear – to being able to walk with help, sit peacefully, have some memory and ability to communicate, understand subtleties of conversation and even make jokes.

Or, as her daughter put it, "I got my mother back."

Researchers estimate that one third of all nursing home patients have been given antipsychotic drugs.

Advice to people with elderly relatives in a nursing home: Ask the doctor about alternatives to antipsychotic medicines.

Read another story about drug side-effects in the elderly.

Thanks to Laurie Tarkan for the source article in today's NY Times.

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