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Published On: Tue, Sep 8th, 2015

Prevalent Poison: The Shocking Stats Behind Nursing Home Drugging

When people send their loved ones to a nursing home, they expect that they will be taken care of. But, some new findings suggest that elderly patients are being abused in these facilities. Here are some ways to figure out if your loved one is a victim and what to do about it.

The Statistics

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (Data through June 2014), 19 percent of U.S. residents (by state, on average) staying in a nursing home have received antipsychotic medication. And, according to Charlene Harrington, professor of nursing and sociology at the University of California, San Francisco, 1 in 5 patients are receiving antipsychotic drugs that they do not need and for which there is no medical justification. In fact, administration of these drugs is dangerous. So much so that the FDA estimates roughly 15,000 nursing home residents die each year from administration of these drugs.

According to Mani Ellis & Layne, “Cases of abuse or neglect are far too common and the elderly resident can suffer very serious consequences, both mentally and physically.”

Some experts speculate that one of the reasons it’s so common is that drug companies, and companies like Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries, use aggressive marketing of their drugs, including antipsychotics, to nursing homes. Doctors also receive kickbacks on them.

Antipsychotics are used to with people who have severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Because of this, the medications have “black box” warnings which are required by the FDA because side effects can be serious for some people, especially frail and older patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

image by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade from Flickr Creative Commons.

image by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade from Flickr Creative Commons.

If given to a patient with Alzheimer’s for example, the drugs can trigger anxiety, agitation, disorientation, and death. According to a report from the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, these drugs can alter a person’s personality, and cause them to act in a manner that’s inconsistent with who they really are. It can, “crush their spirits.”

How To Spot Abuse

Fortunately, there are many signs that your loved one is being abused at a nursing home. Look for signs of:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion that’s unusual given their personality and mental health state
  • Oversleeping
  • Fatigue or exhaustion that’s unusual
  • Erratic or unexplained change in personality or behavior

Most cases of abuse go unreported, so you must frequently check on your loved one and ask the head nurse for a list of medications the patient is currently on. Try to time visits with the administration of those medications, and monitor your loved one over time.

If you suspect a change in their medication that isn’t properly recorded, ask to have diagnostic tests done by a hospital or doctor of your choice, which should reveal what medications are being given (since they will be present in their system.

Keep a journal of your loved one’s behavior, and update it weekly. Stay vigilant because, if a nursing home is illegally drugging your loved one, you will likely be the first and last line of defense. Once you’ve confirmed that your loved one is being abused, contact an attorney who specializes in nursing home abuse cases as well as your state’s Attorney General.

Guest Author :

Elizabeth Cleaves has spent her career in senior care services and likes to share her thoughts with an online audience. Her insights can be found on a number of health blogs.

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