Anna Van Blankenstein lost her husband, Louis, earlier this year.
But she lost the person she knew before that.
“His demeanour changed,” she said. “At first, I thought it was depression.”
After COVID-19 lockdowns began in long-term care, she noticed during window visits that there had been a significant change in him.
“He couldn’t talk,” Van Blankenstein recalled. “He couldn’t operate the phone anymore to call us. He couldn’t operate the remote … It was very worrisome.”
She wondered if he’d had a stroke.
It wasn’t until she moved him to another care home that she made a disturbing discovery.
“It came out that he had, in fact, been on antipsychotic medication without knowledge, without consent, and that the changes we had seen through the window were due to his over-medication,” said Van Blankenstein.
A new study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found a jump in the use of antipsychotic medications in 2021 for seniors in care.
“We saw the rate rise in long-term care from 37 to 42.5 per cent across the country, and in B.C. we saw the antipsychotics rates in long term care rise from 46.1 to 50.1 per cent,” said Tracey Fisher of the CIHI.
The study also found an increase in the use of antidepressants.
“What we saw for antidepressants in long-term care overall was an increase from 62 to 65 per cent of seniors in long-term care being prescribed antidepressants,” said Fisher.
Canadian seniors in care were three times more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than seniors in the community. They were also eight times more likely to be prescribed antipsychotics.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all because long-term care has become like the Wild West without a sheriff,” said Van Blankenstein.
“There’s not transparency. There’s no oversight.”
Fisher said that isolation during the pandemic may have been a factor in the increased use of antidepressants, but it wouldn’t be the only one.
“Seniors in long term care are more frail, they’re more medically complex,” she said.
Earlier this year, B.C.’s Senior’s Advocate, Isobel MacKenzie, raised her own concerns about increased use of antipsychotics.
“The issue is we’re using this medication for purposes for which it was not intended,” she said in February.