The Danger of Overmedicating the Elderly in Nursing Homes

Published on Oct 7, 2022 at 8:54 pm in Nursing Home Abuse.

The Danger of Overmedicating the Elderly in Nursing Homes

The inappropriate use of antipsychotic medications to control older adults, particularly dementia patients, is a serious issue. In the following article, we will discuss the danger of overmedicating the elderly in nursing homes. Please reach out for help if someone you know is suffering chemical abuse.

The attorneys of Belsky & Horowitz, LLC fight against the mistreatment of nursing home residents in Maryland. To speak with an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer about legal options for your loved one, contact our Baltimore office for a free consultation.

Why Do Nursing Homes Overmedicate Elderly Residents?

There was a time when overmedicating elderly patients with psychotropic drugs was almost the norm in many nursing homes across the country. Fortunately, stricter legislation and tighter monitoring systems have worked persistently in recent years to curtail the widespread use of chemicals to subdue patients.

The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law included freedom from “chemical restraints” on the list of patient rights. In subsequent years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has created guidelines banning this dangerous practice. These measures have been effective. But no amount of legislation can completely prevent overmedication from happening.

Overmedicating the elderly in nursing homes still goes on, with dangerous effects on patients. Nursing home staff members use overmedication to make patients calmer and more cooperative. Residents given an unnecessary regimen of antipsychotic medications tend to sleep more and make fewer demands of caregivers. They are duller, less active, and require minimal attention from staff members.

To busy nursing home staff with little concern for the individuals under their supervision, overmedication creates an “ideal” patient. But this easy, cost-effective method of controlling residents comes at a high price to the elderly residents suffering chemical abuse.

How Does Overmedication Hurt Elderly Nursing Home Residents?

There are many ways overmedicating harms older adults. The following list enumerates only a few of the dangers of overmedicating the elderly in nursing homes. The overuse of psychotropic medication:

  • Violates a nursing home resident’s legal rights
  • Takes away a person’s decision-making capacity
  • Inhibits cognitive, physical, and emotional abilities
  • Often leads to malnutrition and dehydration
  • Increases the risk of suffering a stroke, fall, or upper respiratory infection
  • Can cause physical deterioration and pressure ulcers (bed sores) when a patient is sedentary for long periods of the day
  • Is linked to liver and kidney failure
  • Deprives a resident of meaningful meetings with visiting loved ones
  • Prevents patients from forming positive memories with friends and family
  • Can result in worsening health conditions or the development of serious medical complications
  • May cause a resident to form a chemical dependency
  • Prevents a resident from being able to vocalize their symptoms or discomfort
  • Often causes the patient to suffer hallucinations and other traumatic episodes
  • Increases risk of fatality

Overmedication: A Danger to Dementia Patients

In 2016, the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine published a report on antipsychotic drug use among dementia patients residing in nursing homes. The findings were staggering. A shocking 68% of dementia patients were regularly administered antipsychotic drugs—many without the knowledge or consent of the patients or their families. None of the psychotropic drugs investigated had been approved by the FDA for treating dementia-related psychosis.

Of all nursing home residents, Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are most at risk of suffering chemical abuse. Most of these patients are unable to speak out for themselves. If you have any reason to suspect a dementia patient is being overmedicated at a nursing home, reach out for help. The Maryland Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, Maryland Adult Protective Services, or a trusted nursing home abuse lawyer can provide guidance on the next steps you can take to protect your loved one.

How Do You Know if a Nursing Home Is Overmedicating Your Loved One?

Be aware that the signs of overmedication are highly subjective to the individual. Any changes in demeanor or behavior you notice in a loved one could be an indicator of overmedication. Some of the most common signs of overuse of a psychotropic drug include:

  • Confusion
  • Paranoia or delusions
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Insomnia or changes in sleep patterns
  • Sudden bursts of anger
  • Distraction, pacing, or agitation
  • Withdrawal or an unwillingness to communicate
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Lack of interest in any activities
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Recurring falls without a clear reason
  • A regimen of medications the patient doesn’t seem to need, or that hasn’t been explained satisfactorily by a physician

Is Overmedicating a Form of Nursing Home Abuse?

Overmedicating is a form of physical abuse known to occur in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Using chemical restraints to subdue a patient without medical cause is against the law. If proven, this violation of a nursing home resident’s rights may be punishable through both criminal and civil legal action.

The Baltimore personal injury law firm of Belsky & Horowitz, LLC represents the families of individuals who were drugged at a residential facility. Whether or not criminal charges were filed against the nursing home, we can help you hold a staff member or administration accountable for the wrongdoing that caused harm. Help your loved one regain their dignity and the quality of life they deserve.

Call or submit an online contact form to learn more about how we can help you advocate for an important elder in your life.



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