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When Informed Consent is Not Truly Informed

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When a loved one is suffering from Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, he or she may need the kind of comprehensive care only a nursing home or skilled nursing facility can provide.  Unfortunately, such patients are the most vulnerable residents of nursing homes when it comes to being over-medicated and/or medicated with inappropriate drugs.  In fact, as your Denver nursing home lawyer explains below, patients with dementia risk drug abuse in these institutions.

Currently, there are approximately 300,000 nursing home residents nationwide receiving anti-psychotic drugs for Alzheimer's and dementia.  The drugs are used to suppress anxiety and aggression.  However, antipsychotic drugs such as Haldol and Risperdal are approved for the treatment of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  When used for dementia (which Alzheimer's is one form of), the drugs can cause heart failure, infections and even death. 

Many times, patients are given the anti-psychotic drugs without being told what they are -- the family of the patient is simply told that the doctor prescribed something for agitation or anxiety and is asked to consent to the treatment.  The patient's family might not be told about the risks of using anti-psychotic drugs for dementia, namely sedation to the point of no longer talking or interacting, personality changes and higher risk of falls that can cause broken bones and lead to decreased mobility. 

Without understanding the true nature of the drugs being given and the risks associated with them, there can be no informed consent.  Furthermore, the possibility that these drugs are given to keep patients quiet and make life easier for the staff raises the issue of what is known as "chemical restraint," which is illegal under federal law.

The Feds Take Action

Despite the risks associated with the use of anti-psychotic drugs for dementia in elderly patients, approximately 20 percent of nursing home patients are still prescribed such drugs nationwide.  Nursing home attorneys note that even more alarming is the finding that 88 percent of all Medicare claims for anti-psychotic drugs prescribed in nursing homes were for treating symptoms of dementia even though the drugs are not approved for that use. 

Those statistics led the U.S. Attorney for Northern California to file a federal lawsuit under the False Claims Act on August 29, 2014.  Specifically, the lawsuit claims that two nursing homes in Northern California committed fraud when they submitted Medicare and Medicaid claims for reimbursement for medications prescribed for inappropriate uses.  The lawsuit seeks restitution and damages and hopes to send the message that Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement will be denied for drugs prescribed and used the wrong way.

Protecting Your Loved One

Always know what medication is being prescribed for your loved one, as well as the uses for which that medication has been approved.  While some "off label" uses of drugs are beneficial, others are dangerous and unnecessary, as described above.  The important thing is to be educated and to communicate with the doctor so that informed consent is truly informed. 

Stay alert for signs of over medication: 

  • Erratic or unexplained change in behavior
  • Sudden reclusive or withdrawn actions
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Oversleeping
  • Medical complications
  • Confusion

Contact Jordan Levine at the Levine Law Firm if you suspect or know that your loved one is being over-medicated or receiving the wrong medications.

January 20th, 2015 | Posted by Levine Law, on Nursing Home Abuse

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