Psychoactive drugs and antipsychotic medications are often used excessively and unnecessarily in nursing homes throughout the United States. These potent medications are routinely provided to patients in long-term aged care facilities to help patients — and the facility — cope with behavior problems and mental illnesses.
Antipsychotic overuse can have a serious impact on elderly individuals and should be reported. Here’s what you need to know and how to get legal assistance when your aging loved one is being harmed by a nursing home.
What Are Antipsychotics?
Antipsychotics are a kind of psychotropic drug used to treat psychosis and are only available by prescription. These medicines are used to treat some types of mental illness that involve psychotic symptoms. This includes but is not limited to schizophrenia and schizoaffective disease, some types of bipolar disorder, severe depression, and some personality disorders. Some common antipsychotic drugs include but are not limited to:
- Seroquel (Quetiapine)
- Geodon (Ziprasidone)
- Abilify (Aripiprazole)
- Haldol (Haloperidol)
- Risperdal (Risperidone)
- Clozaril (Clozapine)
- Zyprexa (Olanzapine)
These medications are often used off-label as well, meaning that they are prescribed for conditions that have not been approved by the FDA to be treated with that particular drug. Using medication off-label has the potential to be extremely dangerous for patients with a wide variety of health conditions, many of which occur frequently in the elderly population.
Why Do Nursing Homes Use Antipsychotics?
However, nursing homes often use these medications to make patients more compliant or otherwise easier to take care of. For example, a nursing home may prescribe an antipsychotic drug to patients who:
- Get up out of bed and wander
- Cry or display emotions of sadness
- Have angry or aggressive behaviors
- Are confused
- Pace or engage in other repetitive behaviors
- Take their clothing off
- Seem afraid
- Are unable to sleep
In many cases, there are more appropriate treatments available for the above behaviors. There may also be an underlying issue that is causing a nursing home resident to act in this manner. A patient who gets out of bed and wanders the halls may be better served by increased supervision.
Patients who pace, cry, or seem afraid may be experiencing those emotions for a very real reason. A resident who takes their clothing off may simply be overheated and need the air conditioner turned on. They may be acting in response to real issues like illness, overstimulation, fatigue, boredom, hunger, thirst, or pain.
Chemical restraint may not necessarily be the best solution for the patient, however, it’s the usually the easiest for nursing homes.
Indicators of Medication Overuse
It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of medication overuse in a nursing home in case your loved one begins to show any new or worsening behaviors. It’s unlikely that the nursing home will tell you if they are overmedicating your family member, so it’s usually up to the family to act as a voice for their loved one should anything be amiss.
Indicators your family member may be overmedicated in the nursing home are as follows:
- Heavy sedation
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty walking
- Difficulty eating or drinking
- Increased wandering
- New or worsening medication side effects, like dry mouth, headache, increased frequency of urination, etc.
- Cardiac arrest
How Nursing Home Residents Are Impacted by Antipsychotic Overuse
Antipsychotics have the potential to sedate patients to the point of becoming lethargic, listless, or even unresponsive. Patients may be hunched over in their chairs or unable to get out of bed. It may be impossible for them to effectively feed or bathe themselves, engage in activities they enjoy, or even communicate with their family members.
What to Do If You Think Your Loved One Is Overmedicated
If you suspect that your family member is being overmedicated by the nursing facility they’re staying at, you have several options. You may report your concerns to the director of the nursing home, or you can call the Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-922-2275. You may also be able to have your loved one evaluated by a medical professional who is not employed by the nursing home if you’re concerned that the facility may attempt to hide evidence of overmedication, abuse, or other neglect.
In emergencies, you may need to call 911 and have your loved one taken by ambulance to the hospital. If you notice they are extremely unresponsive, listless, blue around the lips or hands, or are showing other indicators that they may be suffering a medication overdose, stroke, or heart attack, you should contact emergency medical services first and follow up with authorities about potential abuse or neglect later, once your loved one has been stabilized.
There are numerous ways to help patients who have higher support needs instead of medicating them to the point of being compliant but unable to function. Many nursing homes don’t want to dedicate funds or staff to provide this type of care, however, it tends to be more effective with fewer side effects. Some ideas for alternative therapies for nursing home residents are below:
- Group therapy
- Individual counseling
- Social activities
- Creative treatments like art and music
- Getting outside in nature
- Sleep medications
- Support from family and friends
- Diet changes
- Predictable routines
When to Consult a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
Was your family member injured, killed, or otherwise harmed in the care of a nursing home facility? Your family may be entitled to compensation. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we know how devastating it can be to learn that your loved one was harmed by the very people entrusted with their care and safety.
Reach out to our experienced legal team today to get help with your nursing home abuse case. Call now by dialing (978) 744-8000 or toll free at (855) 693-9084.