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Cause for concern when your elderly parent’s behavior seems off

The decision to put your mom in a nursing home was likely a hard one. It was difficult to come to terms with the fact that the woman who raised you can no longer care for herself. It was even more challenging to entrust a total stranger with her care. In addition, the cost of her residence at such a facility represents a considerable financial burden. But you want what’s best for your loved one’s health and wellbeing, so you made those tough choices.

Shortly after moving into assisted living, however, you notice a marked difference in your mom’s behavior. She’s much quieter and far less engaged. You’re concerned that her mental aptitude is rapidly diminishing. Now imagine discovering that, in fact, your mom has been drugged with antipsychotic medication that renders her virtually catatonic.

Sound far-fetched? It’s not.

The Human Rights Watch recently published a study examining the use of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes across the country. It found that some assisted living and memory care staff—who are frequently overloaded in caring for multiple patients—alleviate their own workload by giving agitated dementia patients antipsychotic drugs, in order to make them more docile. In the U.S., 16 percent of nursing home residents are treated this way—without patient or family consent, and without proper diagnosis.

Health implications

This practice is not only unethical, it’s also dangerous. Antipsychotic drugs were developed to treat severe psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia. According to the study, using such drugs on dementia patients effectively doubles their risk of death.

In addition, abusing antipsychotic drugs in this way violates both federal regulations as well as human rights law. Nonetheless, such regulations are rarely enforced by the federal government, and citations that are issued for such infractions usually amount to a slap on the wrist—offering nursing homes little incentive to change their behavior.

Legal recourse

Abuses in the nursing home industry are a growing concern across the country. If you notice your elderly parent is unusually lethargic and unresponsive, it could be the result of inappropriate care by nursing home staff. There are elder laws in place to protect your vulnerable loved ones from exploitation.

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