Last Friday Dr. Al Power lead an innovative day-long seminar in Columbus, Ohio, designed to give dementia caregivers the tools they need to abolish the widespread use of psychotropic drugs to control people living with advanced Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
This workshop and Dr. Power’s approach to dementia care, as outlined in his book “Dementia Beyond Drugs“, are groundbreaking. He’s been traveling around the nation (and the rest of the world) working with other advocates and organizations trying to curb the disturbing increase in use of anti-psychotics to treat people living with dementia.
Through the blog, I’ve been trying to share Dr. Power’s story with mainstream media. For example, I contacted major media outlets in Columbus, Ohio, to discuss Friday’s workshop. Nobody responded. I fear that because these new models of care are not “cures” and inherently threaten the profitability of Big Pharma’s top-selling drugs, the mainstream media is not going to pay attention.
The U.S. is currently suffering under a pharmateucital-industry-driven pandemic of psychotropic drug use, writes James Ridgeway. Since 2008, anti-psychotic drugs have been the single top-selling class of prescription drugs in the U.S. with more than $14 billion in annual sales, surpassing blockbuster drugs used to treat high cholesterol and acid reflux.
Once reserved for a very small number of hardcore psychiatric diagnosis, such as schizophrenia, anti-psychotics are now freely prescribed for a range of so-called mental disorders. Hardest hit, observed Ridgeway, are children and elders:
What’s especially troubling about the over-prescription of the new antipsychotics is its prevalence among the very young and the very old – vulnerable groups who often do not make their own choices when it comes to what medications they take.
The number of children being diagnosed with bi-polar disease and prescribed anti-psycotics is skyrocketing. And nearly half of all nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia are heavily dosed with drugs once reserved exclusively for schizophrenics.
You would think the U.S. is in the grips of a psychotic pandemic. You would also think the media would pay attention to this trend.
I can assure you on both counts you would be wrong.
Despite the fact that we don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s disease and have zero evidence it can ever be cured, every minor breakthrough in research on the disease receives massive amounts of media attention. So does every claim that an experimental drug can slow the creep of the disease, no matter how insignificant.
Meanwhile, the media largely ignores the inhumane medical treatment received by millions of people living with dementia, other than to point out how burdensome they are on society. Not only does the heavy use of psychotropic drugs diminish the capacity of individuals to engage socially and lead a meaningful life, they cause harmful health side effects and increase morbidity.
Due to the catastrophic nature of Alzheimer’s and dementia it is understandable that billions of dollars and significant media attention is paid to attempts to find cures or effective treatments. But fear is easy to exploit for profit.
For example, drug maker Eli Lilly payed $1.4 billion in 2009 — “the largest criminal fine for an individual corporation ever imposed in a United States” — to settle lawsuits for pushing the drug Zyprexa to treat Alzheimer’s disease when it knew it caused severe side effects, including obesity and diabetes. But as Ridgeway points out, “Lilly’s sale of Zyprexa in that year alone were over $1.8 billion.”
However, Big Pharma stands to lose billions of dollars in profits if nursing homes were to greatly reduce reliance on anti-psychotic drugs to control dementia patients, or if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) stopped reimbursing for the drugs (anti-psychotics top drug reimbursements by CMS).
There is another way. It’s cheaper than using drugs. It’s safer. It’s healthier.
Dr. Power and a minority of advocates and practitioners are proving that drug-free alternatives to dementia care not only manage behavioral issues better than psychotropic drugs but also considerably boost quality of life of the patients and caregivers.
Ecumen, a long term care provider in Minnesota, recently conducted one of the first ever trials to reduce psychotropic drug use among 10 patients and found the program was 100 percent successful. Not only did the drug use stop without adverse behavioral effects, but the patients all showed increased engagement and social interaction. You can read about it in the NYTimes here.
A provider in the UK also just announced results of a study with nearly as successful reduction rates through the practice of the Eden Alternative philosophy, as designed by ChangingAging’s own Dr. Bill Thomas and heavily influenced by Dr. Power, himself an Eden Mentor — read about it here.
Since we can’t rely on the mainstream media to report on these groundbreaking new models of care that could dramatically improve living conditions for millions of people and save our healthcare system billions of dollars, we will simply have to tell these stories ourselves using social media.
I know many ChangingAging readers are personally involved in these efforts and I encourage you to share your stories in the comments section below. And if you use social media, such as a blog, to raise awareness on these issues, please make sure you’ve submitted your blog to the ChangingAging Blogstream.