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About one-third of B.C. seniors in long-term care prescribed antipsychotic drugs, advocate finds

Erin Ellis | The Vancouver Sun 

A report released today by B.C.’s Seniors Advocate says 34 per cent of care home residents are prescribed antipsychotic medications although only three per cent of that group have been diagnosed with psychiatric disorder.

That’s down from the 50 per cent of long-term care residents on antipsychotic drugs recorded in a Ministry of Health report from 2011.

“On the drug use we really have to work harder on educating our physicians and care providers,” said Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie in a telephone interview from Victoria, “We’ve brought it down. It was 50 per cent on antipsychotics about three or four years ago, but it’s still a little bit higher than Alberta and Ontario.”

Tuesday’s report is the first of a series her office has commissioned based on information collected from about 25,0000 senior citizens living in residential care homes in B.C. and 29,000 receiving home care. It covers their health status, physical abilities, psychological state and medications.

“It is well known that [antipsychotic] drugs are sometimes used to manage aggressive or agitated behaviours in residents who have dementia,” says the report. “This was not what they were intended to treat, nor are there robust clinical trials involving frail seniors to properly monitor side effects.”

Other key findings:

• Fifty-one per cent of residents in B.C. care facilities take nine or more medications, as do 44 per cent of people receiving care at home. Comparable numbers are even higher in Alberta (68 per cent) and Ontario (66 per cent) in residential care.

• Up to 4,400 seniors living in long-term care in B.C. don’t need to be there if they could get adequate help at home. Seniors with minor or moderate physical needs or mild dementia are more likely to still be in their homes in Ontario and Alberta.

Going into a care home “prematurely” creates several problems, says the report. It’s not healthy for a mentally active person to be housed with severely impaired residents and it means using a bed that could be occupied by someone more in need.

• Twelve per cent of residential care clients in B.C. received weekly physiotherapy, compared to 25 per cent in Alberta and 58 per cent in Ontario.

Mackenzie was appointed as B.C.’s first Seniors Advocate in 2014. Her office is independent from government to which it makes recommendations for action.