Do Nursing Homes Overmedicate Aging Patients?

CHICAGO. Atul Gawande, a doctor who frequently contributes to The New Yorker, wrote recently about a disturbing trend facing a majority of Medicare patients. According to a recent study, a large proportion of Medicare patients receive treatment and tests that offer either no benefit, or have been found to be actually harmful. For families across the country, this means higher medical costs, and less money spent on food, shelter, clothing, and education. It also means that patients spend less money on the kind of services and care that could actually help older patients live more meaningful lives as they age.

Mother Jones reports that the medical profession often fails to help patients fully understand their options as they face death. According to Gawande, nursing homes “infantilize” patients, rather than give them the programming and resources they need to enjoy meaning as they grow older. Even as Medicare pays for expensive procedures which may offer little to no benefit, no money is invested in geriatrics departments that would improve quality of life for seniors.

Unfortunately, nursing homes may be part of the problem. Even when there isn’t outright nursing home abuse or neglect, patients may suffer from a lack of meaning as they enter their final days. The suffering is existential—yes, but it is no less important. So, what have some innovative nursing homes been doing to increase the quality of life of their patients? Where some have chosen to medicate their patients, in some cases harming them, other nursing homes have looked for more innovative solutions. One nursing home brought animals into its facility. The presence of cats, dogs, and birds gave many residents a reason to get out of bed in the morning. When one compares the cost of keeping animals compared to the cost of psychiatric medications, the benefits become clear. Every patient is unique, of course. And, where one elderly resident would benefit from living with animals, another might benefit from art classes, or yoga classes, or projects that allow the residents to volunteer time for the community.

Part of the issue has to do with the medical profession’s failure at times to consider patient’s values. Medical doctors are concerned with prolonging life. Nursing homes have a responsibility to keep patients safe and healthy. However, in the pursuit of these goals, nursing homes may miss out on having the tough and meaningful conversations that can lead to a better life for patients.

When choosing a nursing home, families need to consider what a loved one values. For some elderly nursing home residents, this may mean being able to have a pet. For others this may mean being able to see their friends and family regularly. For others, it may mean being able to paint, volunteer, or stay active. Finding a nursing home that matches your loved one’s values may be just as important as finding a nursing home that has a clean record with regards to nursing home abuse and neglect.

The Dinizulu Law Group, Ltd. in Chicago works closely with families and victims of nursing home abuse. Our firm knows how devastating it can be. However, families need to consider all the ways in which our nursing home system can neglect the whole person. In this case, it isn’t a matter of life or death—but a matter of quality of life. Sadly, our nursing homes are riddled with so many serious problems that it can seem impossible for them to transform into facilities that can help residents find meaning. When nursing homes are struggling just to get medications right, we wonder how we’ll ever attain the ideal As more families speak up and demand more for their loved ones, the hope is that the nursing home system will improve.

If you or a loved one has suffered nursing home abuse or neglect. Don’t suffer in silence. Visit http://www.dinizululawgroup.com to learn more.


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