Dementia Caregiving and Antipsychotic Drugs


stressHer caregiving experience reached a new low, when a phone call woke her out of a sound sleep.  "We're having a problem with your dad, can you come right away?"  My friend rushed to her dad's assisted living community in the middle of night.  Her father, with Parkinson's related dementia, was threatening the staff with a fire extinguisher.  Sadly, this proud former police officer was removed from his senior community by his fellow officers for evaluation at a psychiatric hospital.

There is no greater heartbreak for a family caregiver than seeing your parent put himself, his caregivers and others at risk.  It's easy for a person with dementia to misunderstand the actions of his caregivers and strike out.

Would putting your parent with dementia in straight jacket be your idea of good parent care?  I doubt it.  Every day dementia patients are given antipsychotic drugs to deal with behavior issues, the chemical equivalent of straight jacket.  These drugs are administered even though doctors know that they significantly increase the risk of hospitalization and death in elders. The FDA has put "black box" warnings on Zyprexa (olanzapine), Risperdal (risperidone) and Haldol (haloperidol) warning of serious risks to seniors.

Antipsychotic drugs are prescribed when a dementia patients acts out.  Poorly trained staff can escalate aggressive behavior in dementia patients.  A move to a care facility or hospital may trigger agitation in elders with dementia.

If the doctor recommends that your parent take antipsychotic drugs, request that he be given the lowest possible dose.  These drugs have serious side effects, learn what to watch for and report any issues to the doctor immediately.

How to protect your parent from antipsychotic drugs

  • If your parent is at home, learn how to avoid escalating a negative situation with your parent.  Make sure that family members and other caregivers are also trained.
  • If your parent lives in a senior community, observe how agitated residents are handled by caregivers.  Are they trained to prevent negative interactions?  Do they short circuit escalating agitation?  Discuss any concerns you have with the community's administrator.
  • Agitation can signal pain or discomfort that a person with dementia cannot communicate. When a resident becomes agitated, does the nursing staff investigate possible medical reasons for the change in behavior or just medicate the person?
  • Do not leave your parent with dementia in the hospital alone.  Having a family member or paid nursing assistant stay with your parent. Confusion can make your parent agitated.  Hospital staff do not have the time or training to use behavioral interventions to calm your parent and may administer antipsychotic drugs.

Have antipsychotic drugs been prescribed for your parent?  Share your experiences. Stay up to date on our latest posts. Add the EldercareABC Blog RSS feed to your desktop.