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Helping or hurting; when does overmedicating become abuse?


Growing old comes with an ever-growing list of the unexpected for not only the individual but for those that love and care for them. Sometimes this means dealing with mental diseases such as Alzheimer's or dementia which can turn a loved one into a virtual stranger. Individuals coping with these diseases often need the type of around the clock care in which nursing homes specialize.

Today there are nearly 300,000 nursing home residents receiving anti-psychotic medicine. Antipsychotics are known to provide benefits for certain types of personality disorders, but carry great risks when used to calm dementia patients. In many cases the medicine is being used to treat a disorder, dementia, which was never intended to be treated with the medicine, often times turning nursing home residents into "zombies." Unfortunately most patients receiving anti-psychotic medications in nursing homes do so to treat some of the more negative manifestations of dementia.

Proscribing antipsychotics and similar medication to patients to calm them down or make it easier on nursing home staff is called chemical restraint. This is a form of elder abuse and is illegal under federal law. Although the practice is illegal it is ongoing in nursing homes around the nation.

Using drugs unnecessarily or without the informed consent of an individual or their guardian is against the law and can be grounds for a suit. Guardians must be vigilant as it is not uncommon for medicine to be prescribed without informed consent or a detailed explanation of the potential negative effects.

Source: NPR, "Old And Overmedicated: The Real Drug Problem In Nursing Homes," Ina Jaffe, Dec. 8, 2014

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