An innovative nursing home program in New Brunswick is paying off, not just for the homes, but the people living in them.

Three years ago, some care facilities started weaning residents off certain kinds of medications and the results have been impressive.

When a long-term care resident first arrives at a New Brunswick nursing home, they are taking, on average, 10 to 12 different medications, but Cindy Donovan says all that has changed.

“When families came to visit, mom wasn't sleeping during the whole visit, she was more engaged,” said Donovan, the CEO of Loch Lomond Villa.

That's what some families reported after their loved one participated in a program, where antipsychotic medication was slowly removed from their system as part of a program that started three years ago.

These were residents who had no psychosis diagnosis, but who had been prescribed the medication anyway at some point in their care.

“They're often prescribed for individuals who are experiencing aggressive behaviours as a result of the effects of dementia,” said Jodi Hall, Executive Director, New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes. “And so this drug is often used to treat that, but research has shown that it's not always a benefit to individuals.”

New Brunswick nursing homes were some of the first in the country to try this. First, it was 15 homes, then, 68.

Staff spent a lot of time educating families who were nervous about how their loved one might react, but the results speak for themselves.

“People came alive!” Donovan said. “They actually woke up, they were doing more things than they had been doing, and we really did not see any increase of aggression and that was the worry of family as well as staff.”

There were fewer falls and residents were eating on their own.

Tuesday, the official results were released:

  • 34 per cent of residents saw antipsychotic medication discontinued -
  • 18 per cent saw a reduction
  • 52 per cent of residents found some success through the program.

“It's not just about reducing or discontinuing medication - you also have to put other types of therapies in place,” Donovan said.

Some homes have been trying music or pet therapy. At Loch Lomond Villa, they tried something else.

“We have babies that are specially made that look truly like an infant, and so it is a cuddle therapy program,” Donovan said.

The nursing home association is aiming for this to be a permanent effort.

“We're going to continue to collaborate with the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement to make sure that this initiative is very grounded,” Hall said. “(That) it's part of the organizational culture and residents will be able to continue to benefit from this.”

Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Prince Edward Island are now looking into adding similar program to their nursing homes.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.