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How to Prevent Wrong Mental Illness Diagnoses in Assisted Living

Antipsychotic drugs are harmful if you do not need them. They make life more difficult for people with dementia who take these drugs unnecessarily. Side effects include increased anxiety, restlessness, loss of hunger or thirst, excessive sleeping and even death.

It is important to ask about the drugs taken by you (or by a loved one) in assisted living. Ask: Were you diagnosed with schizophrenia after moving into your care facility? Were you told you need drugs to treat symptoms of schizophrenia or another serious persistent mental illness?

Dementia is not a chronic mental illness like schizophrenia.

If you or someone you know has dementia and were told you (or they) have schizophrenia, it may have been the wrong diagnosis. If you think this is the case, your Long-Term Care Ombudsman can help you understand your rights and talk to your nursing staff.

Questions to ask include:
  1. Why was I given this diagnosis?
  2. What are my symptoms?
  3. Who made this decision?
  4. Am I on an antipsychotic drug?
  5. Are there other treatments that don’t involve drugs?
  6. What are the risks with the drugs you want me to take?
  7. Who will monitor my symptoms?

A correct first-time diagnosis of schizophrenia is extremely rare for people of old age. Its symptoms can appear to be similar to those of dementia, but the two illnesses are very different.

A psychiatrist is the best professional to diagnose schizophrenia. People have the right to ask for a psychiatrist to evaluate them.

Doctors recommend drug-free approaches as the current best treatments for dementia. If you have the wrong diagnosis, you could be given harmful drugs you don’t need.

Sources: National Inst. of Mental Health, Center for Medicare Advocacy, National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.