BERLIN -- A growing number of German dementia sufferers are being treated with antipsychotic drugs that calm them down but do nothing to treat their illness. Critics have used the provocative term "chemical rape" to denounce the practice.

According to Professor Gerd Glaeske of the University of Bremen's Center for Social Policies, handing out this type of medication without the permission of the patient or a relative of the patient is comparable to arbitrarily tying mental patients to a bed or chair.

Glaeske told Die Welt that many out-patients or residents of care facilities – possibly as many as 240,000 – are given drugs just to keep them quiet. "In these cases, the drugs ... save on personnel costs and give the homes greater profit margins," he said.

Glaeske cites British studies which suggest that in two out of three cases, strong neuroleptic drugs are being prescribed when they shouldn't be -- and wouldn't be necessary at all if the patient was receiving the proper care for his or her condition.

A German social rights association called VdK recommends increasing the amount invested in care to stop this "mass phenomenon." "Dementia patients are very care-intensive because they have a very strong need to move around, and often try to run away," said Ulrike Mascher, the association's president.  

In the next few years, many care homes in Germany are going to have to expand to deal with the country's rising numbers of dementia patients. Pilot projects have shown that it is easier to care for patients in small groups of five as opposed to groups of 20, which is the approach taken in many facilities.

Germany's Ministry of Health stated that while the medication prescribed to dementia patients is the responsibility of their doctors, new reforms planned by Health Minister Daniel Bahr are aimed to improve cooperation between doctors and care homes.

Members of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) have criticized the government, saying it bears a great deal of responsibility for this scandal. SPD critics say far too little has been done guarantee financing for proper care of dementia patients.

Read the full story in German by Anette Dowideit

Photo - Vince Alongi

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

Editor's note: An earlier version of the article featured a headline we have since determined to be unnecessarily provocative.