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Overmedication in Nursing Homes

Overmedication in Nursing HomesEntrusting the care of a loved one to a nursing home is a difficult choice to make, but you make that decision so that your loved ones can receive the care that they need. You should never have to worry that a nursing home is neglecting or abusing a family member. Unfortunately, many nursing home residents are being victimized by one common form of abuse and neglect: overmedication. In fact, "overmedicating" is increasing to almost epidemic proportions among the elderly. Our nursing home attorneys understand the dangers posed by overmedication and can help you if your loved one has suffered as a result of this kind of neglect or abuse at a senior care facility.

What is Overmedication?

Overmedication occurs when a nursing home patient is given too much medication--usually significantly more than they need--or given unnecessary medication. There are two different types of overmedication: accidental and intentional.

  • Accidental overmedication Overmedicating a resident accidentally is unacceptable, but it is not done intentionally to harm someone. This type of overmedication happens for a variety of reasons but is usually caused by untrained or overworked staff members, poor communication, or poor management. If a resident is accidentally overmedicated, it may indicate nursing home neglect.
  • Intentional overmedication Deliberately overmedicating residents is an insidious form of nursing home abuse. Intentional overmedication occurs when the staff at a nursing home give residents more than their prescribed amount of medication or a medication they are not prescribed in order to chemically sedate them. The most common medications for this type of abuse are sedatives or antipsychotics. This type of nursing home abuse diminishes the quality of life of residents, making them overly sleepy, confused, groggy, and lethargic.
Why Do Nursing Homes Intentionally Overmedicate?

Nursing homes that overmedicate or chemically sedate their residents usually do so to keep the residents docile and under control, or to limit their movements. Seniors who are calm and sleep a lot are easier to manage and require less attention from staff members, which makes drugging patients cost-effective for a nursing home. Regardless of the reason, this form of abuse is completely unacceptable and can result in serious health consequences for nursing home residents.

Health Consequences Associated With Overmedication

Many of the drugs used to medicate nursing home residents, such as antipsychotics, have a host of potentially dangerous side effects. Their use in elderly patients can result in cognitive decline, altered consciousness, memory loss, a decline in mobility and strength, a greater risk of falling, an inability to communicate, depression, and even death. A report by Human Rights Watch concluded that” In an average week, nursing facilities in the United States administer antipsychotic drugs to over 179,000 people who do not have diagnoses for which the drugs are approved. The drugs are often given without free and informed consent, which requires a decision based on a discussion of the purpose, risks, benefits, and alternatives to the medical intervention as well as the absence of pressure or coercion in making the decision. Most of these individuals—like most people in nursing homes—have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.” This medication is being used to make patients with dementia or Alzheimer's more docile and control unwanted behavior. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the use of antipsychotic drugs almost doubles the risk of death in older people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The FDA has estimated that over 15,000 nursing home residents die each year due to overmedication abuse. Yet, the practice continues, despite Federal regulations that require patients to be fully informed of their treatment and to be permitted to refuse treatment if they wish, as well as state regulations that require informed consent before the administration of antipsychotics.

Warning Signs of Overmedication

Recognizing that your loved one is being overmedicated can be relatively simple if you know what to look for. Below are some of the warning signs of overmedication:

  • Changes in behavior or personality
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations
  • Infections
  • Issues with balance
  • New, unexplained medical conditions
  • New physical injuries or ailments
  • New psychological conditions
  • Oversleeping
  • Rashes
  • Reclusiveness
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain

If you have noticed any of these warning signs in your loved one, contact the experienced nursing home abuse lawyer at The Collins Law Firm to discuss what steps you should take to ensure the safety of your loved one.

What You Can Do if You Suspect Your Loved One Is Being Overmedicated

If you have a family member in a nursing home and they are being overmedicated, or you suspect they are being overmedicated, you should ask the facility for a list of all of the medications being administered. Ask questions about why your loved one is on specific medications, and ask to speak to their doctor about weaning them off any medications that are not prescribed for them or that are not medically appropriate. If you are not satisfied with the answers you get, you can report the facility to the Illinois Long Term Care Ombudsman, the Adult Protective Services Hotline at 1-866-800-1409, or the Illinois Department of Health Central Complaint Registry Hotline at 800-252-4343. Then you should look into finding a new facility for your loved one that does not rely on medicating patients to control their behavior.

Call the Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys at The Collins Law Firm for Help

If you have lost a loved one to overmedication or have seen a family member’s health decline as a result of overmedication, you should call our experienced nursing home abuse attorney as soon as possible. At The Collins Law Firm, we know the devastating effects of overmedication, and we stand ready to protect and fight for you and your loved one. We encourage you to call us to discuss whether you have the right to take legal action against the nursing home responsible for your loved one’s pain and suffering. Call us at (630) 527-1595 or fill out our contact form for a free evaluation of your nursing home overmedication case.

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