Antipsychotics in Dementia Care

Few things get a bee in my bonnet like the use of antipsychotics in people with dementia.  AARP’s July/August Bulletin features Drug Abuse: Antipsychotics In Nursing Homes, which discusses many of the problems with using antipsychotics that I’ve been on my soapbox about for years.

Speaking of which, let me hop back on.


It doesn’t have to be this way!

Antipsychotics are rarely necessary; great staff training IS.  Unfortunately, direct-care staff doesn’t get to make decisions about how much training they get.

Training programs are readily available, but executive-level staff often has the attitude that they’ve “got this thing” and no problem exists in their building.


When we know better, we do better

Under-trained staff can’t do better; they don’t know how. Until we collectively start insisting on better and more training, it won’t happen.


Run the numbers

The use of antipsychotics increases risk of stroke by 70%, risk of heart attack by 30%, risk of falls, risk of hip fracture, and shaves an average of 2-3 years off the life of a person with dementia.

For those who think, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing because people with dementia just kinda sit there and stare off in to space anyway,’ let me be clear: it’s the use of antipsychotics that causes that!



Antipsychotics further decrease a person with dementia’s ability to think and communicate clearly.

Isn’t that alone enough of a reason to stop using these drugs?  How can we say with a straight face that these drugs are used to “help” when we know they do the opposite?

Is your person on actual dementia medication too? (By “actual dementia medication,” I mean one of the four medications currently available to treat dementia. Not antipsychotics or antianxiolytics that you were told are for dementia.) You’re throwing money down the drain: antipsychotics work against what the dementia meds are trying to do.


The FDA says NO

The FDA issued a black box warning stating any type of antipsychotic (new or old) is not safe for people with dementia.  And by the way, that was in June 2008.  Six years later, and AARP still has to put out an article about this?

Note: it’s now nine years later. Rather than deleting this post because it was no longer relevant, I updated it.


Nursing Homes vs Assisted Living vs Memory Care

Just in case you were thinking you didn’t need to worry because your parent or partner lives in assisted living or memory care…nope.

Your loved one is likelier to not be taking unnecessary medications if she resides in a nursing home (SNF). Regulations are much tighter, and surveys are conducted annually. Not so with assisted living (ALF)–which is the level of care many memory cares are licensed for.


We know better, now let’s DO better!  Part 2 will discuss HOW we can do better.


Christy Turner is the founder of and has enjoyed the privilege of working with 1,123 people living with dementia and their families. Follow on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Content varies across platforms.