Seniors who live in today’s nursing homes have the potential to live a fulfilling life with friends and family at their sides and endless opportunities to learn and expand through community-wide programs. But many seniors find themselves stuck in their own minds due to cognitive disorders and medication protocols that encourage nursing homes to medicate instead of rehabilitate.
Over-Medicating The Dementia Patient
There are an estimated five million people living with Dementia today. Many of these people live in full-time residential facilities across the country. Others are cared for at home or through a medical facility. While medication is often regarded as the only choice for families who want to slow or halt the progression of dementia, many seniors who live in nursing homes are being administered drugs that are not meant to treat cognitive disorders. Some 300,000 residents across the country are currently taking antipsychotic drugs such as Seroquel or Haldol, drugs that are prescribed to deal with the agitation and aggression that can go along with Dementia. These drugs are not intended for seniors and include a black box warning that reveals a higher risk of heart failure and death. Unfortunately, many understaffed and overpopulated nursing homes see the need to prescribe these drugs to seniors to keep them “safe” (docile might be a more appropriate term).
From Active And Friendly To Flat And Unaffected
The sad reality is that many seniors are being given drugs that they don’t need simply for the convenience of the nursing home staff. Federal law prohibits the misuse of prescription medication for such purposes; it is known as chemical restraint and is one of the many actions seniors are supposed to be protected from. But it still happens, many times right under the noses of the law and the families of dementia patients. The problem is one of uncertainty. It is difficult for you as a family member to prove that strong psychotropic drugs are unnecessary, particularly when you’re going against the word of a physician. In the minds of many doctors, drugs that may leave your loved one unaffected, dazed and impersonal are a necessary evil.
The Problem And How You Can Solve It
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has strict requirements for senior facilities that receive their funding from them. Among them:
- Residents (or their family members) must give informed consent before new medications can be administered
- Staff should be trained in how to properly care for seniors with Dementia
- The use of antipsychotic drugs should be reduced in care facilities
- Facilities that fail to adhere to the new requirements should face an appropriate penalty
Clearly, not all nursing homes are following the regulations, yet government agencies are slow to punish those facilities that break the rules, and seniors are still receiving medication that they don’t need or want.
How To Tell If Your Loved One Is Over-Medicated
It can be difficult to judge, particularly if your loved one is taking medication for Dementia, whether s/he is getting the right dose and kind of medication. Common medications used to treat the symptoms of dementia include Donepezil (Aricept), Galantamine (Razadyne), and Namzaric (a type of Memantine). These medications commonly cause physical side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and dizziness; they do not commonly cause psychological effects. Be on the lookout for the following signs that your loved one is being given more prescription drugs than necessary:
- S/he sleeps a lot or always appears to be drowsy
- S/he isn’t interested in going out or socializing (this varies with personalities, but you can judge what is “normal” for her)
- S/he seems to “zone out” a lot when you’re there
- S/he seems to have lost her “zest” for life
Many of these symptoms are legitimate side effects of certain drugs, so it is important that you are active enough in the life of your loved one to know the difference. If you are concerned that your loved one might be a victim of over-medication, be proactive: ask questions, talk to his physician and report your concerns to the nursing home administrators and your Ombudsman.