NASHVILLE (AP) – Tennessee health officials are training nursing home care providers how to treat dementia patients with fewer drugs – especially those with Alzheimer's disease.
The Tennessean reported statistics collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show about 30 percent of long-term nursing home residents in Tennessee are treated with antipsychotics drugs. The national average is 23.8 percent and federal officials want that cut by 15 percent by year's end.
Tennessee health officials have a $370,000 federal grant for a series of sessions to train nursing home workers.
State health care facilities director Vincent Davis said the goal is to reduce the use of drugs and improve patients' overall well-being.
"We need to try to understand what the person is trying to express," Davis added, saying drugs should not be a first resort.
Exact numbers on how many nursing home residents have dementia were not available, but experts say the average is 65 percent to 75 percent of the average nursing home's patients.
Health officials worry that too many dementia patients are being administered drugs intended to treat behavioral disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Such "off-label" use of antipsychotics can expose patients to medical risks.
The Food and Drug Administration requires labels on those drugs that warn administering them to elderly dementia patients increases the chance of death and can have other harmful side effects.
Tennessee Health Care Association official Jay Moore said the nursing homes group supports efforts to reduce the use of antipsychotics drugs.
"While we might not be able to completely eliminate the use of such medications, the goal is really to reduce the usage. Caregivers really have to look at the circumstances on a case-by-case basis to determine proper medication administration," Moore said.
Dr. G. Allen Power, a mentor with The Eden Alternative, held the first training session last week in Nashville. He said finding a personal connection to each dementia patient is key in caring for them.
"When the front door is broken, you try the back door or a side door," Power said.
Information from: The Tennessean, www.tennessean.com
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