Nursing Home Abuse of Anti-psychotic Drugs

PillsIt’s never easy placing a loved one in the care of a stranger. However, for millions of Americans it is a reality that they must cope with. According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, there were 39,045 Hoosiers in a certified nursing facility in 2011, and while there are thousands of hard working medical workers taking care of those in these facilities we often hear of abuses. These abuses come in many forms – neglect, physical, mental, and verbal abuse. But a recent report from NPR highlights an overlooked problem that can be just as damaging.

Anti-Psychotics Carry a Black Box Warning for Dementia Patients

According to the story, published December 8th, there are nearly 300,000 nursing home residents across the country currently receiving some type of anti-psychotic drug. This may not seem all that surprising at first. However, consider the fact that many of these prescriptions are given to treat, “the anxiety and aggression that can go with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia,” and not to treat the symptoms of mental illness. This is especially shocking because these medications, like Risperdal and Haldol, are not really meant to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia, and even carry a black box warning when used to treat these types of diseases. The warning says, “they can increase the risk for heart failure, infections, and death.” Professor Bradley Williams adds to their risk saying, “Anti-psychotic drugs change behaviors. They blunt behaviors. They can cause sedation. It increases their risk for falls.”

What is a Chemical Restraint?

According to NPR, “Federal law prohibits the use of antipsychotics and other psychoactive drugs for the convenience of staff. “If there is no documented evidence of need for these drugs the federal government considers it a chemical restraint. Unfortunately, thousands of Americans are being chemically restrained. “In 2011, a government study found that 88 percent of Medicare claims for antipsychotics prescribed in nursing homes were for treating symptoms of dementia, even though the drugs aren’t approved for that.” So what can happen to those who are victims of chemical restraints, and how does one ensure that their loved one doesn’t end up the victim of a chemical restraint?

NPR’s article tells the story of Patricia Thomas. Patricia had Alzheimer’s disease, but according to her daughter, Kathi, Patricia had been doing fine in 2010: “living in a memory care facility near Santa Barbara, walking and talking, dressing and feeding herself.” Unfortunately, Patricia fell and fractured her pelvis, and after a hospital stay she went to a nursing home for rehab work. However, Kathi says that within a week, “she was in a wheelchair, slumped over, sucking on her hand, mumbling to herself, completely out of it, not even aware that I was there.” Because she was so out of it, Patricia wasn’t able to do the rehab work and was discharged from the nursing home. That’s when Kathi learned of the medication her mother had been receiving. “Among them were Risperdal and Haldol, both powerful antipsychotics.” Kathi tried to wean her mother off the drugs, but it didn’t work. Kathi was unable to have another conversation with her mom, and Patricia died within two months of being discharged. This is an illustration of what can happen when these drugs are misused or abused. It’s also an important example of why informed consent is so important.

Keep Your Loved one Safe From Chemical Restraints

The best way to ensure that your loved one doesn’t become the victim a chemical restraint is to stay in contact with your loved one. You know them better than anyone else, and an easy way to tell if they have been given an antipsychotic is if you notice drastic changes in their behavior. If they appear unusually sedated, spacey, or out of it you may want to inquire about the medications that they have been given. Nursing homes are supposed to obtain informed consent from either the resident or their guardian when handing out new medications. However, too often people are not told about the dangers of these drugs when used to treat dementia. Also, some residents suffering from dementia may not fully understand what they are being given, or why they are being given it.

Get Help for Nursing Home Abuse

While we must put faith in the dedicated medical professionals who serve our family members every day, we cannot shirk our responsibility to our loved ones. Part of that responsibility is following up if you believe abuse has occurred. This can be a daunting task, but there are resources. An experienced nursing home abuse attorney at Hensley Legal Group can help you navigate the facts, and help you understand your options. They will do everything they can to make right the wrong done to your loved one. If you have questions we can help. Contact us anytime at 1-800-436-7539, or contact us via the web. Fill out the get help now form, and someone from our office will contact you immediately to discuss your claim.