Program focuses on right drugs for dementia

The Pierce County Long-Term Care Ombudsman program is taking on the improper marketing and misuse of certain prescribed drugs for the treatment of behavioral symptoms of dementia. 

The drugs most often used include Risperdal, Seoquel, Abilify and Invega. Misuse of the drugs, especially for elderly seniors and people who have a dementing illness, can have serious, life-threatening side-effects, according to Pierce County Aging and Disability Resources.

 “Prescription drug use plays an important role for individuals with dementia,” said Aaron Van Valkenburg, the county agency’s manager. “But in certain situations, strong drugs may have been given inappropriately simply to control behaviors stemming from Alzheimer’s and other dementias.  Families need to understand their rights and responsibilities in advocating for their loved ones.”

The ombudsman program is hosting a series of free community seminars to help friends and family members advocate for their loved one who may be at risk. The seminars are scheduled for: 

• March 10 at 1 p.m. at the Bonney Lake branch of Pierce County Library, 18501 90th St. E.

• March 12 at 6:30 at the Spanaway branch of Pierce County Library, 13718 Pacific Ave. S.

• March 17 at 12 p.m. at Pierce County Annex, 2401 S. 35th in Tacoma.

• March 19 at 2:15 p.m. at Wheelock Library in Tacoma, 3722 N. 26th St.

• March 26 at 2 p.m. at Gig Harbor Boys and Girls Club, 8502 Skansie Ave.

Officials said the major concern centers on the use of the medications for reasons other than their intended use (referred to as off-label). Research indicates that 83 percent of the medications were used for reasons other than their designed use. Sedating patients to control their behaviors frequently denies any quality of life and can lead to rapid physical and mental deterioration, according to researchers.

The Pierce County Long-Term Care Ombudsman program is a service of Pierce County Community Connections.  Staff and volunteers of the program advocate for the rights and quality of life of residents living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family homes with special attention to residents who may be unable to communicate effectively on their own.