Feb 13 2016
Earlier this week, I visited the Westminster Village senior living facility in Dover to learn more about their efforts to reduce unnecessary prescriptions of antipsychotic drugs and enhance the quality of life for the residents under their care.
Across the country, 17 percent of long-term residents at nursing homes who show symptoms associated with dementia are being prescribed mind-altering antipsychotic medications. While these kinds of drugs can help patients with certain ailments, medical experts have long recommended that antipsychotic drugs not be used to treat dementia.
Even more troubling, a 2015 Government Accountability Office report I requested found that many of these medications have specific warnings not to give to patients with dementia, and their use has not been approved for treating this condition by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But thanks to recent efforts by Medicare, Medicaid, and state and local health care providers, fewer seniors are inappropriately receiving these drugs.
Westminster Village is an example of a nursing home leading the effort to curb instances of improper prescriptions. The staff at Westminster Village works closely with doctors and medical providers to find more proactive and personalized treatment options for their residents. They engage with their residents, their residents’ families, medical care providers, and staff to find individualized treatments that enhance the quality of life for the folks they care for. In fact, none of the long-term residents at Westminster Village are currently taking antipsychotic medication.
On Monday, I joined Delaware’s State Secretary for Health and Human Services, Rita Landgraf, at Westminster Village to see first-hand the results of this shift from relying on mind-altering drugs to treat their residents. The residents I met were engaged, talkative, and active. Many found joy in participating in dance and yoga classes at the residence.
Our seniors deserve the highest quality of healthcare and social services, and I’m so proud that Delaware and Westminster Village are leading the way in that important effort. Caring for the elderly with dementia and cognitive deficiencies is a difficult job – but also a sacred one, and we’ve got to make sure we’re getting it right. We must continue to provide caregivers and medical providers with the training and resources they need to prescribe and administer antipsychotic drugs properly and safely. We must also pursue proactive and personalized approaches like the one at Westminster Village, and use those best practices as models for the rest of the country to reduce unnecessary use of these drugs as much as possible. For me, this visit was deeply personal. For the last few years of her life, my mother, who had dementia, spent time in a nursing home. I know how powerful it feels to just be able to sit and have a conversation with many of these patients. I even met an inspiring couple who has been married for 64 years and counting. What a joy it was to hear them tell their story.