Nursing Homes Are Misdiagnosing Schizophrenia At An Alarming Rate
In a horror mashup of U.S. Nursing Homes Are Wrecked meets The U.S. Healthcare System Is Wrecked, nursing home residents are being wrongfully diagnosed with schizophrenia at an alarming rate, just so they can get pumped with antipsychotics to make them more “manageable.” You read that right. Nothing in that sentence is hyperbole, and everything’s royally forked. A recent investigation by The New York Times found that at least 21% of the elderly at these homes are on antipsychotic drugs — drugs that are commonly referred to as “chemical straitjackets” and usually prescribed to people suffering from schizophrenia. That’s around 225,000 people. Absolutely forked.
To be more specific, this extremely dangerous practice sees residents with complications stemming from dementia being diagnosed with schizophrenia so that powerful sedatives like Haldol can be shoved down their throats. Haldol is an antipsychotic drug mostly administered to people with schizophrenia, and the drug’s FDA warnings specifically state that there is an “increased mortality in elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis” and that “antipsychotics are not indicated for the treatment of dementia-related psychosis.” Many studies have corroborated this, and it seems like the only people actively ignoring these warnings and pushing for the use of antipsychotics to treat those with dementia are the ones with a finger in the pie, as usual.
Just to be clear, in case this wasn’t obvious, these residents we’re talking about don’t actually have schizophrenia — a fact easily deduced by looking at their health records. Schizophrenia is almost always diagnosed before the age of 40. You don’t just wake up in your 60s one day and think you’re the reincarnation of Alien Charlie Chaplin or whatever. The reasons these old people are being misdiagnosed seem to be twofold: 1) It makes them less of a nuisance for the chronically understaffed nurses because the drugs basically zombify them, and 2) it helps keep these homes’ government ratings up. See, high use of antipsychotic drugs is pretty bad for a nursing home’s rating ... unless it’s being used to treat schizophrenia. Ding, fork, ding.
On top of that, the number of patients on antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenia are legally kept off public records. The argument goes that these drugs were approved to treat schizophrenia, so nursing homes shouldn’t be penalized for administering them to people diagnosed with the disorder.
And while schizophrenia diagnoses have been soaring, behaviors associated with the illness like delusions and hallucinations have slightly declined. If the alarm bells aren’t ringing in your head by now, maybe read that again because that’s like saying pneumonia cases have increased, but people are coughing less. Of course, with the pandemic and staffing problems taking a hit because of it, the antipsychotic drug trend has only increased. The numbers are shocking: One in nine nursing home residents across the country has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. In the general population, one in 150 people suffer from schizophrenia.
And while there are old people dying from being drugged and getting sicker in these care facilities, these nursing homes and doctors prescribing the drugs are simply getting away with it. Records obtained by The New York Times literally show how, after a physical therapist and dietician noted one of their Dundee Manor patient’s health deteriorating at a shocking rate, a pharmacist filled out a form for the patient’s doctor, recommending that the patient’s dosages of not one but two antipsychotic drugs be reduced to comply with federal guidelines. The doctor checked the “disagree” box, citing “staff feels needed.” The patient died soon after.
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Top Image: Matthias Zomer/Pexels