Nursing homes routinely administer anti-psychotics, despite Health Canada warnings about the drugs: 16×9 investigation

When Gail Nelson went looking for a nursing home for her father she spared no expense.

She assumed, at $10,000 at month the home she chose would be able to provide the care her father needed as he declined into dementia.

But from the beginning there were problems.

“At the 10 day mark, they said they needed to put him on some medication,” she says. “To make him more controllable.”

That medication was Risperidone – a powerful antipsychotic drug developed to treat illnesses like schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.

“It was right at the beginning of the four pills a day that I witnessed that he looked like he had a stroke and his face was totally shifted down. He was drooling… and he was trembling,” she says.

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When Gail asked the nursing home about Risperidone, she was told that it was used to make her father more controllable. “He could be difficult, but I didn’t see him combative and I didn’t see him aggressive,” she says.

As Gail learned more about the medication, she realized how dangerous it can be for the elderly.

“It can be extremely harmful…the only thing he had received before he went in there were multivitamins,” she says.

In fact, this class of medication can be so dangerous that both the FDA and Health Canada post warnings that antipsychotics can be deadly for elderly people with dementia. Despite those warnings, 50 per cent of all nursing home residents in BC are prescribed antipsychotic drugs.

According to a nurse’s aide who works in nursing homes in BC, antipsychotic drugs are used because there simply aren’t enough people to take care of patients with dementia.

“Too few staff on every shift,” she says. “These are medications being given to calm them down, keep them quiet, keep them in one spot.”

Six weeks after Eldon Mooney moved into the nursing home, Gail Nelson received a phone call with the sad news her father had passed away. The nursing home told Gail her father had died peacefully in his sleep. It wasn’t until later that day, that Gail retrieved a hidden camera she had placed in his room and saw what really happened.

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“A caregiver was feeding him and he started choking on the food,” she says. “He was trying to pull himself up and grabbing a waste paper basket and she actually pushed him back…and subsequently choked him.”

16×9 investigates the use of antipsychotic drugs in Canada, what other jurisdictions are doing to curb it – and speaks with families who say their loved ones died because nursing homes kept them under chemical restraints.