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How misusing medication in nursing homes harms patients

When a loved one is in a nursing home, we expect the facility and staff to provide the care and environment we cannot. We expect our loved one to receive compassionate, knowledgeable medical attention as well as adequate support and supervision.  And we expect this all to be done with a respect for medical and legal standards.

Sadly, this doesn't always happen. For instance, some nursing homes use powerful medication to chemically restrain patients -- sometimes, without consent.

Crossing the line

Nursing home patients often suffer from conditions like dementia that require medication and medical attention. They can be agitated, confused, delusional and in pain, and there are numerous medications can that properly alleviate the symptoms to help the patient feel better.

However, as noted in this Washington Post article, roughly one in 6 patients were given antipsychotic drugs without an approved diagnosis last year. In other words, facilities often administer powerful medications to residents, even when they do not have a condition warranting such powerful drugs.

Why overmedicate?

Typically, facilities misuse medication as a means of controlling patients, as opposed to treating a legitimate condition. Many drugs have sedative properties that make patients sleepy and easier to manage. If a patient is sleeping or no longer able to resist attempts to bathe, for instance, workers struggle less on the job.

However, this practice or improperly medicating patients has devastating outcomes. Residents can suffer malnutrition and worsened medical conditions when they are improperly medicated. They can also experience isolation and neglect.

What should loved ones do?

Information is perhaps the most powerful tool when it comes to ensuring a loved one is receiving proper care in a nursing home. As a loved one, you should know what medications a patient is on, as well as any serious warnings associated with the drug. You should also know what type of effect the drugs have on your loved one by visiting him or her at various times throughout the day. 

If your loved one's condition is inexplicably worsening, or if you discover staff members are giving him or her medication without informed consent, legal action may be justified. Discussing the potential legal remedies with an attorney in these situations can be vital.

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