Sonya Dunbar

Using Psychotics to Manage Seniors is Elder Abuse


When a person with power over an elder harms or puts the senior at risk, they are abusing that elder. Sadly, the perpetrators of abuse are likely to get away with it because a lot of seniors, especially those with dementia,  can have difficulty communicating with the outside world about their condition. 

Seniors can also be forgetful. So, it can be hard to tell whether they are being abused or it is a communication problem. 

But there is evidence that elders who live in long-term care facilities face abuse.  According to the World Health Organization, in 2021, around 1 in 6 people experienced some form of abuse in the community setting, especially at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A report by the New York Times found there is the widespread use of antipsychotic drugs on vulnerable residents of nursing homes to manage seniors.  The disturbing report revealed that at least  1 in 5 residents is on psychotic drugs, more than the federal government has publicly reported.

Why Nursing Homes are Drugging Seniors

In the 1990s, many nursing homes would use physical restraints. But now that physical restraints are banned, so many nursing homes are using chemical restraints. In this case they are using psychotics to sedate seniors.

This breaks my heart because psychotics are FDA-approved for the treatment of psychosis.  While seniors can be a handful, with love and proper attention, it is always possible to help them live a good quality of life.

But we have not been able to offer elders living in nursing homes a good quality of life because most nursing homes are understaffed and the caregivers receive minimum pay.  Some of the caregivers also face a lot of pressure in their workplace.

As such, some nursing homes are drugging seniors to keep the elders quiet and make it easy for  overwhelmed caregivers to handle them. Other nursing homes sedate seniors so that they can house more residents in the facilities and make more money. 

According to the  New York Times , there is a loophole that pharmaceutical companies have lobbied to allow nursing homes to prescribe antipsychotic drugs to their residents when they do not need them.

We Should Not Use Antipsychotic Drugs on Seniors Who Don’t Need Them

Though antipsychotics can be useful and necessary for people who need them for medical disorders, most elders in long-term care do not have schizophrenia or mental disorders that would warrant the use of these antipsychotic drugs.

Using antipsychotic medication on seniors who do not need it might lead to dire consequences, including death. Yet nursing homes are still using the medication on seniors who do not need them.  

The New York Times  writes about  Mr. David Blakeney, a 63-year old resident of a nursing home, who  was unsettled and agitated. 

The nursing home’s doctor recommended Haldol, a powerful sedative although there was no evidence that this resident had schizophrenia. 

Eight months after Mr. Blakeney’s admission and after round-the-clock sedation, weight loss, pneumonia, and severe weight loss that required one of his feet to be amputated- the senior was dead.

The Way Forward

Unless we invest in nursing homes, we will continue to see more facilities drugging seniors so that the overstretched caregivers can care for them.  

The only real answer to this is paying people better and hiring more caregivers. Otherwise, if a staffer is responsible for 20 seniors, they would be tempted to sedate as many people as possible to be able to do their jobs.

But if the caregiver is only responsible for three seniors, then they can take care of them much more carefully.  

Another solution would be to have smaller nursing facilities. Scaling down the sizes of the care facilities will improve the quality of life of the residents.  Families should also try to be more responsive to the extent that they can for the care of their family.

If you need me to give a talk or offer training on how to take care of seniors, visit my website to book a session. You can also purchase my book, The Tooth And Nothing But The Truth, which is packed with a lot of knowledge on this subject.

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