A form of elder abuse that has previously failed to get proper attention involves the tendency to overmedicate nursing home residents. While it may not be as easily identified as physical or financial abuse, it is a growing problem that affects seniors in nursing homes across the country. If you have a loved one in an assisted living facility, it can help you to learn more about this practice.

How Often do Nursing Homes Overmedicate?

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently performed an analysis that looked at the practice of prescribing antipsychotic drugs to patients who did not meet the criteria for receiving these drugs [source]. The Food and Drug Administration regulates the prescribing of antipsychotic drugs, including the conditions for which these drugs are prescribed.

In more than 179,000 instances, the GAO analysis found that nursing homes were prescribing these drugs to residents who did not suffer from psychosis or related conditions. In these cases, the drugs were used to reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, but antipsychotic drugs have never been approved for this type of use.

Similarly, sedatives are also prescribed more often than they should be as a means of controlling residents. In the majority of cases, these medications are prescribed without informed consent. This means staff members are administering the drugs without informing residents or their families of the use or purpose of the drug. Residents are also not informed about the risks and side effects of the drugs, which can include serious injury or death. While the use of sedatives and antipsychotic drugs can help alleviate some of the pressure overworked staff members face, there are other answers that don’t involve proscribing dangerous and potentially addictive drugs.

How To Tell If Your Senior Loved One Is Being Overmedicated?

While the practice of nursing home abuse lawyers can motivate institutions to provide better services, you will need some evidence that your loved one has been overmedicated. If you find reason to suspect that your senior loved one has been overmedicated, you should take the issue up with the director of the facility.

In that meeting, it will be important to make it clear that any medication changes should be brought to your attention before being implemented. Remind the director that this is essential in meeting the facility’s responsibility for abiding by the senior’s overall care plan.

You should suspect that your senior loved one has been overmedicated if you observe the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained weight changes
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Loss of mental clarity
  • Spending longer hours in bed
  • Increased memory lapses

How Is This Situation Being Addressed?

Through political lobbying, the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 was established and compelled the government to take a more active role in monitoring and regulating the treatment of residents in nursing homes. Under that act, one of the actions the government took was to establish the National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes in 2012.

Since creating that coalition, the group has had a positive effect in reducing the use of antipsychotic medications on nursing home residents by up to 35%. This has helped reduce the problem, but there’s still more work to be done.

Assisted living facilities are helping to reduce the problem as well. Many nursing home directors have ordered studies on the conditions and use of medications with the residents in their own facilities. In many cases, these studies find that more than half of the residents in their care are receiving antipsychotic medications without cause. By eliminating this practice in each facility, individual nursing home directors are also helping to lower the prevalence of this problem.

Recently, more people are becoming aware of the problem of overmedicating seniors in nursing homes. This is partly due to families seeking help from personal injury attorneys who have the expertise to look more closely at the records for residents in assisted living facilities. If your elder loved one is in an assisted living facility and you have observed behavioral changes, asking a professional legal advocate to look into the situation may be helpful.


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