Awakenings Program a Humane Approach to Alzheimer’s Care

For the over 5 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, a large percentage must also deal with the effects of over-prescription of antipsychotic drugs. One Minnesota care organization has effectively demonstrated an alternative approach that both reduces prescription drug use and improves patient behaviors.

Ecumen, a Minnesota-based senior care provider, has used behavioral and other alternative techniques to reduce antipsychotic drug use by a whopping 98 percent. Its Awakenings program has helped more than 1,200 patients in its 16 nursing homes across the state. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, Medicaid and Medicare spending has been reduced by up to $350,000 per month. Affected patients have reduced behavioral symptoms and improved mental alertness as well.

Geriatric professionals have long argued that patients can become disengaged and inactive due to the overuse of antipsychotic medications, which are given to calm problematic behaviors, such as wandering and aggression. Although federal law mandates that such drugs should only be used as a last-resort safety precaution, an estimated one-quarter of all nursing homes residents may receive antipsychotic drugs, according to a New York Times blog. An additional untold number of dementia patients residing in other settings also receive these medications.

Ecumen’s Awakenings approach focuses on behavioral interventions and more thorough patient assessment. As described on its website, the Awakenings model, has a four-part focus: