Medication Mistakes and Overuse Rampant in Nursing Homes

Everyone becomes physically weaker with age and some people lose the mental abilities they once had.nursing home abuse

In addition, medical and behavioral issues leave aging loved ones vulnerable. Often a family has no choice but to place their loved one in a nursing home, where he or she can receive much-needed professional care. Unfortunately, nursing home abuse and neglect is on the rise.

A lesser known form of nursing home abuse takes place when poorly trained or negligent staff members give patients the wrong type or wrong dose of medication. In some cases, doctors accidentally or purposefully prescribe medication developed to treat symptoms or conditions other than those that they are trying to control. In extreme cases, doctors use medication to control difficult or violent patients that suffer from dementia by using a “chemical straitjacket,” thereby using unneeded medicine to keep patients obedient and easier to control.

How common is the misuse of medication in nursing homes?

A report from the office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services published in May 2011, Medicare Atypical Antipsychotic Drug Claims for Elderly Nursing Home Residents, found that: 

  • 14 percent, or 304, 983, of the 2.1 million elderly people in nursing homes had at least one Medicare claim for an atypical antipsychotic drug in the first six months of 2007.
  • 83 percent of Medicare claims for atypical antipsychotic drugs for elderly nursing home residents were associated with off-label conditions.
  • 51 percent of Medicare atypical antipsychotic drug claims for elderly nursing home residents were wrong.
  • 22 percent of the atypical antipsychotic drugs claimed were not administered according to CMS standards for drug use in nursing homes. Patients were given too much medication or received the drug for too long.

A British Medical Journal study published in February 2012 found that some commonly prescribed antipsychotic drugs, like risperidone and haloperidol, add to the risk of death in elderly patients. In addition, antipsychotic drugs have side effects such as liver damage, higher blood sugar levels, increased likelihood of developing diabetes, lower blood pressure and various life-threatening diseases of the nervous system.

Negligence or Abuse?

A report on the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights International website stated that, according to Dilip Jeste, president of the American Psychiatric Association and chief of geriatric psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, there are only 2,000 board-certified geriatric psychiatrists in the United States. This means that the treatment of behavioral problems in the elderly is often left to inexperienced doctors. A lack of training in non-medical methods of dementia care as well as a lack of resources and staff in nursing homes adds to the problem.

Stop the Suffering

Drugs should only be used when they improve a patient’s quality of life, not as a way to control behavior. While a small number of elderly nursing home patients who suffer from dementia pose a risk to themselves or others and therefore need antipsychotic medicines, the figures suggest that drug-related medical abuse in nursing homes is common.

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If you discovered that someone you love has been the victim of nursing home abuse, contact our attorneys now for a free consultation. You may be able to file a claim for compensation that will prevent others from suffering the same fate. Because the law limits the amount of time available to file a claim, you should act quickly.

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