Iowa Nursing Home Abuse: Is Your Loved One Being Overmedicated?

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Posted by Pressley Henningsen

Image of old woman and nurse in a nursing home

Medication is necessary for most elderly people. It can aid in dealing with pain, chronic diseases, and other issues, but nursing home abuse experts have also documented nursing homes that use medications in sinister ways, causing injury and even death.

Overmedication is More Common in Nursing Homes Than You Might Have Thought

Use of psychoactive medications – antidepressants, anti-psychotics, and the like – is too common in care facilities. A team of University of South Florida researchers determined that 71 percent of Medicaid residents in Florida nursing homes were receiving a psychoactive medication within 3 months of moving into a facility. This is despite the federal government encouraging nursing homes to use non-medicated ways of handling patients. Why would a nursing home give an unnecessary and potentially dangerous medication to a resident?

The Use of Chemical Restraint to Manage Residents

The first thing to understand is why the elderly are so overmedicated in nursing homes. Many homes use medication to “babysit” or “manage” residents. This is known as “chemical restraint” and when unwarranted it is a form of nursing home abuse. A lack of staff is a one reason why overmedication occurs – it is simply easier for a limited number of CNAs to handle more patients if they are calm.

Unfortunately, people with dementia or Alzheimer’s can often have disruptive or violent behavior. This is another reason that chemical restraint is used in nursing homes. Although some medications may be necessary to manage someone’s violent outbursts, overmedication can cause serious side effects and should not be used to “control” a person.

Whatever the reason may be, intentional overmedication or the use of medications for the convenience of staff is nursing home abuse.

Risks of Overmedication

There are several known risks of overmedication. These risks can be both physical and mental in nature.  The risks of overmedication in the elderly include:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of enjoyment in life

What You Can Do

If you suspect nursing home abuse in the form of overmedication, there are a few things you can do to protect your loved one.

1.     Keep a list of all medications being prescribed

Your list should include the names and dosages of all over-the-counter and prescription medications.  Make sure you keep your list up-to-date by adding or removing medications as they are changed.

You also need to be aware of the potential for theft of medications in a nursing home, particularly anti-anxiety and pain medications. Keeping track of the medications may help with preventing this problem.

2.     Discuss each medication with the doctor

Communicate with your loved one’s doctor about each medication. Discuss why each medication is being prescribed for your loved one, and what some of the side effects could be. If you have any concerns, do not be afraid to bring them up. Share your personal observations with the doctor, including if your loved one has been exhibiting some of the symptoms noted above that could signal overmedication.

Be sure to ask how the medications interact with each other.

If the doctor does not seem to have good answers for your questions, seek out a second opinion.  Another doctor or pharmacist can look over the list of medications to rule out any issues.

3.     Ask if there are other options

Sometimes medications are the only option, but not every situation calls for a medication-based solution. Speak with both the nursing home administration and your loved one’s doctor to see if there are other options. If either person says there are no other options besides medication, consider that a red flag.

Overmedication can happen even if you are being careful. If you suspect nursing home abuse or if you have further questions, call us at 1-319-774-1542 today.

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