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Dementia On the Rise: It's Time to Deal With It

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The Alzheimer’s Association says about five million people in the United States have some form of dementia. They expect that number to increase dramatically as baby boomers age and more people live longer. By 2050, we can expect that number to rise to about a million new diagnoses every year.

Unless things change, many of us will end up in nursing homes.

Last month, NPR correspondent Ina Jaffe ran a series of stories on the use of antipsychotic medication in nursing home patients. She found that despite FDA warnings that these drugs can increase the risk for death in people with dementia, there are about 300,000 nursing home residents nationwide who receive them, mostly to calm the agitation that can accompany dementia.

Nursing homes are starting to get it, prodded in part by pressure from a 2012 request by the federal government to curb their use and a black box warning that highlights the risk.

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But it’s not that easy. Inadequate or poorly-trained staff, lack of a full-time psychiatrist at most facilities, and family members upset by agitation make it difficult for nursing homes to comply. 

And, psychiatrists say anti-psychotics are effective if given in low-doses for short periods of time.

In the meantime, there’s a seismic shift underway in dementia care that shifts our thinking toward health instead of illness but, it takes training and money to implement.

This hour, we explore how nursing homes care for those with dementia, here is Connecticut and beyond as more and more of us need their care.

Check NPR's interactive database here to see the history of antipsychotic drug use at nursing homes in your area and how they compare to national and state averages. 

GUESTS:

John Dankosky was our host for this show and Chion Wolf was our technical producer

Betsy started as an intern at WNPR in 2011 after earning a Master's Degree in American and Museum Studies from Trinity College. She served as the Senior Producer for 'The Colin McEnroe Show' for several years before stepping down in 2021 and returning to her previous career as a registered nurse. She still produces shows with Colin and the team when her schedule allows.

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