Anna Liachenko, BSc, MSc
Although anti-psychotic medications produce substantial side effects in the elderly, these drugs are extensively prescribed in nursing homes. Nursing home studies conducted in the United States in the 1980s showed that anti-psychotics were often used to manage disturbing behavior that did not fall into the clinical definition of psychosis. In 1987, the use of anti-psychotics was restricted by the Nursing Home Reform Amendments of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA87). The reform spelled out the exact guidelines for the use of each anti-psychotic drug in the elderly, thereby substantially reducing the amount of prescribed medication in nursing homes. Whether Canadian physicians also overprescribe anti-psychotic drugs is not clear. At present, clinical studies are being conducted to estimate the extent of anti- psychotic use and to find strategies to safely reduce the amount of medication when possible.
Mental illnesses, dementia in particular, are often accompanied by behavioral disturbances. This is often the primary reason for placing the older person in a nursing home. Thus, the prevalence of behavioral disturbances in nursing home residents is high and is estimated to be close to 60%. Only 10% of these behaviors are psychotic, i.e. accompanied by "delusions or prominent hallucinations, with the hallucinations occurring in the absence of insight into their pathological nature" (DSM-IV).
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