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Are antipsychotic drugs responsible for your loved one's death?

The loss of a loved one is never easy, even when that person is sick or elderly. However, if your loved one declined rapidly and died suddenly, especially after a recent admission to an Arizona nursing home, you may have suspicions about the cause of death.

AARP's latest report shows that, despite efforts to combat the use of antipsychotics in nursing homes, many facilities continue to use the drugs for unauthorized purposes. If your loved one suffered from Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, you may suspect that medical staff administered such medication, which may have contributed to your loved one's death.

Consequences of misusing medications

Nearly every state supports AARP's effort to reduce the use of antipsychotic medication in elderly dementia patients. The Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings about the misuse of drugs meant to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. The FDA says using such medications to treat negative behaviors in patients with dementia, like your loved one, at best, has no benefit and, at worst, can be deadly. Some common side-effects of antipsychotics in dementia patients include the following:

  • Disorientation leading to falls
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Death

Some dementia patients experienced a sudden decline in ability to do the following:

  • Display alertness and energy
  • Communicate with others
  • Bathe themselves
  • Get dressed
  • Feed themselves
  • Walk or get around on their own
  • Perform other normal activities

Nevertheless, about 17 percent of nursing homes still use these medications for off-label treatment, such as chemical restraint or to treat agitation or other symptoms of dementia.

Your loved one's nursing home may have kept you in the dark

While the use of antipsychotic drugs to chemically restrain dementia patients in nursing homes is declining, reports of continued use are common in nursing home facilities with limited, overworked staff and inadequate training. You may be familiar with the difficulties and frustrations of managing someone with dementia, and it is certainly easier to medicate a patient than to employ alternative methods of calming and dealing with behaviors common in those suffering with dementia.

Additionally, if antipsychotic drugs were a regular alternative in the facility where your loved one died, it is likely that medical staff did not inform you and other family members of that fact or of the serious risks involved. This is against the law, and your family has every right to seek legal advice on how to address this very concerning situation.