Ask anyone who handles nursing home abuse and neglect cases on behalf of families whether elderly patients are over-medicated, and the answer will be a resounding YES.
Ask a nurse at a long term care facility whether patients are over-medicated and the answer will be NO – they need the medications to keep patients in their rooms, or in bed, or in their wheelchairs, quietly resting.
A recent study performed by University of Michigan Geriatric Psychiatrist Donovan Maust comes to a more balanced conclusion, that while doctors may be trying to do their best, seniors may be getting too many psychiatric medications, and non medication approaches are often being ignored.
Are all drugs dangerous? No.
Could these medications be dangerous for your loved one? Absolutely.
The American Geriatrics Society has long offered the following advice to physicians treating elderly patients:
- Don’t use antipsychotics as first choice to treat behavioral and
psychological symptoms of dementia
- Don’t use benzodiazepines or other sedative-hypnotics in older adults
as first choice for insomnia, agitation or delirium.
- Why? Large scale studies consistently show that the risk of motor vehicle accidents, falls and hip fractures leading to hospitalization and death can more than double in older adults taking benzodiazepines and oth er sedative-hypnotics. Older patients, their caregivers and their providers
should recognize these potential harms when considering treatment strategies for insomnia, agitation or delirium. Use of benzo diazepines should be reserved for alcohol withdrawal symptoms/delirium tremens or severe generalized anxiety disorder unresponsive to other therapies.
So why then do we see these medications so often being given to seniors in long term care facilities?
Wouldn’t we all agree having to leave your home for a nursing home would be discouraging and depressing?
And wouldn’t we all agree that if a nurse has to care for 30 active residents but she could ask the doctor to medicate 15 of them then her job could be easier?
Wouldn’t we also agree that the doctors who prescribe these should also be present in the facility to determine what the short and long term changes and effects are?
So I ask the question again – are our seniors being over-medicated? Yup. They probably are. And the long term care system doesn’t provide much accountability for injuries and deaths caused by these medications. Instead, we need family members to be advocates and question whether these medications are right for their loved one. Then ask again – and again, just to make sure.