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Is the nursing home chemically restraining your parent?

If your parent lives in a nursing home, you likely spend a good amount of time worrying about his or her safety, health and welfare. You may fear that (s)he does not get the care (s)he needs and deserves, especially if (s)he suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, you may have reason for your concerns.

A study recently released by Human Rights Watch reveals that nursing homes across the country routinely dose their residents with antipsychotic drugs in order to control their behavior.

Study findings

The study revealed that this unauthorized and often illegal practice is far more widespread than you might think. Of the 1.1 million elderly nursing home patients residing in 15,000 facilities nationwide, 179,000 of them received routine doses of antipsychotic drugs despite the fact that no doctor had prescribed them. Oftentimes neither the affected patients nor their families even knew what medications they received, whether authorized or not.

In some nursing homes the rate of unauthorized dosing with such drugs as Seroquel, Risperidone and Haloperidol reached as high as 30 percent. None of the victimized patients suffered from any disease or condition for which doctors prescribe antipsychotic drugs, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Instead, most of them suffered from dementia. Caregivers openly admitted that the reason they gave these patients such drugs was to make them easier to manage by decreasing their tendency toward combativeness and noisy outbursts. In other words, as elder rights advocates assert, these drugs represented chemical restraints.

Poor federal oversight

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has the responsibility of enforcing the rules and regulations of the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987. The CMMS, however, apparently refuses to enforce the rules regarding the administration of antipsychotic drugs. In the three-year period between 2014 and 2017, the CMMS cited only 7,039 instances of unauthorized antipsychotic drug dosing. More disturbing is the fact that in 97 percent of these cases, the CMMS waived the mandatory fines for the guilty nursing homes, stating that their patients suffered “no actual harm.”

Not only does federal law ban the use of antipsychotic drugs in patients for whom they are contraindicated, it also requires facilities to monitor all patients legitimately receiving them. Nevertheless, the CMMS announced in 2016 that it was placing a moratorium on these regulations.

Unfortunately, the Human Rights Watch study results show that you cannot simply trust your parent’s nursing home to give him or her only the medications prescribed by a doctor. You must take a proactive approach to his or her medications and assume responsibility yourself for monitoring what (s)he receives and why. Consequently, you must ask plenty of questions to both the nursing home staff and the doctor(s) involved in your parent’s care. Should you receive evasive or inadequate answers, complain in writing to the nursing home and consider the possibility of filing suit.

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