Overmedication in Assisted Living Communities

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While drugs are often necessary for maintaining a high standard of living for seniors in residential care communities, overmedication of these people is often a significant problem. Each year, thousands of assisted living patients are given unnecessary drugs that can cause a whole host of side-effects in already fragile individuals. Fortunately, many of the nation’s assisted living facilities are taking the initiative to tackle social and behavioral problems without the excessive use of medication.

What is Assisted Living?

When an older adult can no longer live safely on their own, assisted living communities offer a supervised residential setting that allows seniors to maintain their dignity and independence while receiving day-to-day care. Trained staff members are on hand at all times to help residents with daily living activities such as bathing, dressing, grooming and eating. Assisted living communities typically offer limited medical care on-site, but residents often receive help following their medication regimen. While a controlled medication schedule can keep residents healthy, though, it can also open the door to the overprescription of certain drugs and the overmedication of patients.

What Are Some Commonly Overprescribed Medications?

Historically, medications have been used at the convenience of assisted living staff as a simple way to prevent behavioral issues. Residential facilities have long considered medication to be an efficient and cost-effective treatment for unruly patients. However, inappropriate medications can detract from a senior citizen’s quality of life.

Antipsychotics are a form of psychotropic drug used to treat mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but they are often prescribed inappropriately to elderly Alzheimer’s and dementia patients living in a residential care setting. Not only are these drugs an ineffective treatment for dementia, but according to FDA warnings, they can lead to agitation, anxiety, disorientation and even death. Federal law in the US now prohibits senior living staff from using antipsychotics and other psychoactive drugs unless medically necessary for a patient’s wellbeing.

What Are The Warning Signs of Overmedication?

Perhaps the most obvious sign of overmedication is a drastic change in mood or behavior. Patients who were once happy and active, then start experiencing lethargy, confusion, mood swings or other changes which may signal signs of overmedication. Seniors, in particular, may also see alterations in sleeping patterns or suddenly develop mysterious medical conditions.

What Are The Risks of Overmedication?

Older adults who take multiple medications are at a higher risk of overmedication in an assisted living setting. Elderly individuals are sensitive to the effects of drugs, increasing the risk of adverse interactions and making it particularly risky for older patients to take inappropriate medications. Overmedication can also lead to physical ailments, cognitive impairments, and incorrect diagnoses for conditions such as depression or dementia.

How Can Assisted Living Facilities Prevent Overmedication?

By working closely with patients, their family members and their physicians, assisted living staff can avoid overmedicating patients with ineffective and potentially life-threatening drugs. Special attention should be given to high-risk individuals, such as those on multiple medications or those with complex health concerns. Patients should check with their pharmacist or primary care doctor to screen all medications for appropriate dosages and possible interactions, including any over-the-counter medications.

Better training for caregivers in assisted living communities can help to prevent the need for unnecessary medications in the first place. Staff members who know how to manage behavioral problems without antipsychotics can better address the unique social, emotional and medical needs of seniors in assisted living.

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