Mental Health Issues in Nursing Homes

April 7th, 2016 by Attorney Roger Weinberg

Nursing homes are facing two major issues when it comes to the mental health of residents. There are many residents who don’t have psychiatric disorders but are improperly given psychiatric medications in order to sedate and chemically restrain them. The other major issue is residents who genuinely have psychiatric disorders but who aren’t receiving proper treatment. If a loved one in a Maryland nursing home falls into one of these categories and suffers injuries as a result, we may be able to help.

Nursing homes have been called psychiatric institutions without trained psychiatric staff and even “psychiatric ghettos,” according to the article Mental Health Treatment in Nursing Homes published in Marquette’s Elder Advisor. The development of psychiatric drugs in the 1950s and 1960s and efforts to move people out of state psychiatric hospitals and into the community resulted in people who in the past would have been hospitalized living in group homes, with families or living on the streets. As these people age and/or become more physically infirm, many end up living in nursing homes that are poorly equipped to provide them proper care.

Nursing homes generally have few staff members who specialize in mental health treatment so, by default, residents are treated primarily with psychiatric medications. According to the Marquette article, a 1993 study showed that only 5% of nursing home residents with psychiatric conditions received appropriate treatment within a given month’s time. On the other end of the spectrum, a study of Texas nursing home residents found that half of those without a psychiatric diagnosis were given psychotropic medications.

In 1987 a federal law was passed to try to reduce the number of these over-medicated nursing home residents, but studies have shown the law has had limited effect. One study showed that 16% of nursing home residents without a psychiatric diagnosis were being given anti-psychotic medications.

The number of nursing home residents with severe mental illnesses can vary widely, depending on the facility. They can generally be broken down into those these categories:

  • Those who have these illnesses when admitted
  • Residents who develop a mental illness (especially anxiety or depression) in response to declining health, the stress of living in the nursing home and isolation from family members
  • Patients who suffer from mental health problems in combination with dementia or Alzheimer’s

Many problems can arise if mental health issues are not properly addressed or if residents are over-medicated with inappropriate drugs.

  • Those with untreated or under-treated psychiatric issues could harm themselves or others and, because they’re not getting appropriate treatment, will not have the quality of life that they deserve.
  • Those who are over-medicated run a higher risk of hospitalizations, adverse drug events and loss of balance, possibly leading to falls and injuries. Those using antidepressants have a higher chance of having a stroke. Residents taking antipsychotic drugs are more likely to develop infections, edema and stroke, and there’s a higher mortality rate for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

If you or a loved one has suffered because a mental illness wasn’t properly treated by a Maryland nursing home, or if your family member was over-medicated and chemically sedated, we can help you stop this medical abuse and neglect and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. At the Law Offices of Roger S. Weinberg, you’ll find compassionate support and experienced advocates to help your family through the tough times. Call 410-825-3161 today to schedule a free consultation.

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