Overmedicating is a serious nursing home issue. It sometimes happens because the nursing home is understaffed and their employees can’t sufficiently take care of all the residents. The staff might be extremely stressed out and tired, and are therefore more likely to administer an excessive amount of medication to their residents.

In some cases, nursing homes will intentionally overmedicate patients that are deemed aggressive, emotionally unstable, or otherwise uncooperative in order to pacify them.

Adequately staffed nursing homes who are properly trained are able to deal with problematic residents by working with patients who act out emotionally. When medications are necessary, they can taper patients off their medication. Of course, though this is how it should work, it doesn’t always.

You can help prevent the overmedicating of your loved one. Be sure that they have a comprehensive list of all their prescription and over-the-counter medications, and that they take that list with them to each doctor’s appointment. You can review the list with each of their doctor’s to ensure that there aren’t medications that will counteract one another or react badly when taken with another medication on the list. Speak with each doctor about why each medication was prescribed, how it works, how it should be taken, etc. You can include the following questions in your discussion with each doctor:

  • How and when should my loved one take this medication?
  • Should my they take this medication with a food or drink? If so, what kind?
  • Can they take this medication with over-the-counter medication?
  • What should my loved one do if they miss a dose?
  • What are the potential side effects of this medication?
  • Is there an alternative to taking this medication? If so, what is it?

There are warning signs to watch for to help conclude whether or not your loved one might be overmedicated. Those signs include:

  • Drowsiness/extensive sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Physical complications, such as dry mouth and ulcers
  • Hallucinations
  • Dizziness or falls
  • Fractures
  • Seizures
  • Withdrawal from family and/or friends

If your loved one is exhibiting these warning signs or sudden behavioral changes, contact a doctor immediately, even if it seems to be the side effect of a medication.

Antipsychotic Medications & Overmedicating

Elderly individuals with dementia are sometimes prescribed antipsychotic medications. These work differently from regular medications in that they either increase or decrease the influence of neurotransmitters in the brain to regulate levels. The neurotransmitters affected can include dopamine (which affects pleasure), noradrenaline (which is a stress hormone that affects blood pressure), and serotonin (which affects sleep, memory, mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, and sexual desire and function). Outside of elderly people with dementia, antipsychotics are typically prescribed to individuals with mental health issues such as bipolar disorder and a mood disorder that could become psychosis.

The issue with antipsychotic meds is that they can increase the risk of serious health complications. Not to mention, these drugs don’t always resolve the behavior of someone with dementia because the medication doesn’t directly address what that individual is dealing with or trying communicate to their caregivers. While nursing homes and other nursing care facilities are decreasing usage of antipsychotic drugs, they might still be necessary in certain cases.

Here are some statistics about overmedicating with antipsychotics in nursing homes:

  • Over 300,000 residents take antipsychotic drugs.
  • Over 50% of residents who receive them don’t have medically accepted reasons for taking them.
  • 17% of residents receive more than the recommended daily levels of antipsychotics.
  • 15,000 nursing home residents die each year because of un-prescribed antipsychotics.

If your loved one has been prescribed antipsychotic medication, or if these medications are a consideration, you can ask the following questions to determine if they’re necessary:

  • Why was this medication prescribed?
  • How have my loved one’s caregivers attempted to respond to challenging behaviors without these medications?
  • What is the strategy for tapering or stopping usage of this antipsychotic? What are the alternatives?

If you suspect your loved one has been or is being overmedicated and has suffered as a result, even if you’ve already tried to intervene on their behalf, contact the attorneys at Lloyd & Lloyd. We’ll review your legal options and any potential compensation.

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