Objectives: To describe the incidence and dose of neuroleptic drug therapy newly dispensed for behavioral disorders to older adults admitted to nursing homes and to determine whether this use is associated with patient characteristics and contact with specialists.
Design: A retrospective cohort study using administrative data from a comprehensive and universal drug program.
Setting: All licensed nursing homes in Ontario, Canada.
Participants: All 19,780 adults aged 66 and older who had no evidence of neuroleptic drug use in the previous year and no history of major psychosis and were newly admitted to a nursing home between April 1, 1998, and March 31, 2000.
Measurements: Exposure to neuroleptic drug therapy and initial dose were measured using claims submitted to the Ontario Drug Benefit Program.
Results: A prescription for a neuroleptic therapy was dispensed to 17% of older adults with no previous neuroleptic exposure within 100 days and to 24% within 1 year of their nursing home admission. New exposure to a neuroleptic therapy was less likely in women (odds ratio (OR)=0.7, 95% confidence interval (CI)=0.6-0.8) and more likely in residents with dementia (OR=3.5, 95% CI=3.2-3.8). Almost 10% of nursing home residents received an initial dose that exceeded recommended thresholds. Only 14% of those newly exposed had prior contact with a geriatrician or psychiatrist.
Conclusion: Incident use of neuroleptics in Ontario nursing homes is substantial. Use of high doses suggests that some physicians may need better information about using these agents, particularly given the rapid adoption of atypical neuroleptic drug therapies.