New federal data show nursing homes in Tennessee have continued to reduce the use of powerful antipsychotic medications, but the number of long-term patients getting the drugs remains among the highest in the nation.
The new data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that Tennessee nursing homes achieved a 22 percent reduction in the use of the medications from the second quarter of 2011 to the end of last year.
The federal government has compiled the data as part of a long-term campaign to reduce the widespread overuse of the drugs on elderly patients, many of them suffering from dementia.
The national rate of use among long-term nursing home patients dropped by 15 percent over the same period.
The overall use of antipsychotic medications on Tennessee's nursing home patients was 23.4 percent in the last quarter of 2013. Only, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas had higher rates.
Hawaii and Alaska had the lowest rates followed by Michigan. The national average stands at 20.2 percent.
"While the department is pleased Tennessee nursing homes continue to show improvement in the reduction of antipsychotic medication use, it is recognized the state has further work to do toward that end," said Carol Mace of the state Department of Health.
The Tennessee reduction follows a training program set up by state health officials with federal grant money to train nursing home employees in alternatives to the use of drugs like Haldol, which can cause severe side effects and even death in elderly patients.
Bill Thomas, a cofounder of the Eden Alternative, the nonprofit that conducted the Tennessee training sessions, said the state's improvement is among the best in the nation.
Thomas, who was in Nashville recently for the organization's national conference, said, "They really got on it."
"The evidence is that the use of these drugs actually shortens people's lives," he added.
Estimates show between 50 and 65 percent of nursing home residents suffer from varying degrees of dementia.
The new data, which CMS issued last month, show that the percentage of patients treated with antipsychotic drugs dropped steadily from a 2011 high of 30 percent, though it rose slightly in the third quarter of 2013 before continuing to decline.
Federal data shows even better improvement in the care of short-term nursing home patients. Overall a 29.1 percent reduction was recorded in that category. The data show short term patients are far less likely to be given the drugs, with Tennessee reporting a 3.2 percent rate at the end of 2013.
Thomas said his organization is continuing its efforts to teach nursing home workers alternative ways to deal with elderly patients.