Over-medication Warning

If you are visiting a family member or friend this holiday season in a nursing home, be on the lookout for over-medication issues.

Too often nursing homes drug seniors to keep them quiet and more compliant.  These facilities commonly use antipsychotics, such as Risperdal, Haldol and Seroquel, despite the fact that those drugs have a black box warning that they cause an increased risk of death to elderly patients with dementia.

Federal law, specifically Title 42 part 483,  prohibits the use of antipsychotics and other psychoactive drugs for the convenience of staff.

Doctors associated with the nursing homes  will often order the antipsychotic drugs, and residents or guardians will agree without being advised of the side effects.   The law requires informed consent to administer the drugs, a requirement that is often ignored.  In 2011 the federal government started an education campaign to reduce the use of antipsychotics in nursing homes.   It had only partial success – years later almost 300,000 nursing home residents are still on antipsychotic drugs.

Guardians and family members (with HIPAA releases) should ask to see the elder’s medication chart, and ask questions about every prescribed medication.    Symptoms of drug use could include sleepiness, inability to communicate  or stand, unusual speech patterns, and disinterest in surroundings.

For more information, see the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General’s May 2011 report “Medicare Atypical Antipsychotic Drug Claims for Elderly Nursing Home Residents.”