Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote, “Age has no reality except in the physical world.” For many, this is true. As they age, they find that at heart they are still young but their body needs additional, round-the-clock care. Frequently, that care is given to them by nurses and physicians in nursing homes.
These patients chose to live in a nursing home for a variety of reasons, one of the most common being that they don’t want to burden their loved ones and so they place themselves into the hands of professionals. Sadly, these men and women who are charged with the elderly’s well-being regularly make medication errors that can make their patients sicker or even kill them.
Conditions Often Treated In Nursing Homes
Thanks to scientific progress, there are thousands of medications available both over the counter (OTC) and by prescription for nearly every disease known to man. In nursing homes, the most common medical conditions that are treated include:
- Osteoarthritis: Pain from this condition is in the joints and is caused by inflammation and wear and tear.
- Diabetes: Occurs when the body is unable to regulate the amount of glucose being produced. If left untreated or unregulated, this disease can be fatal.
- COPD: This makes it difficult for a patient to breath because it causes a loss of lung volume.
- Hypertension: High blood pressure can cause numerous other issues in the body if left untreated, including loss of vision, heart disease, and kidney failure.
- Dementia: This condition leads to a general decline in mental ability and results in an inability to care for one’s self.
- Parkinson’s Disease: Patients suffering from this disease suffer from a loss of motor function.
- Heart Disease: The most common disease among the elderly, those that suffer from this condition can have heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, and suffer from blood clots in other regions of the body.
- Cancer: Tumors can grow on any part of the body. Some cancer is curable, others are not. Regardless, cancer patients are treated with a wide variety of medications, sometimes as many as 20 different types a day.
While it is marvelous that so many of these conditions can be treated and patients made comfortable, each medication comes with its own risks and if not used or stored properly, drugs can cause serious damage to the user.
Types Of Medication Errors
In nursing homes, where every patient needs very specific types of care and nurses are often working long hours for companies who are chronically understaffed, medical malpractice situations involving medication errors happen all too often. In one study, an examination of the records in just 25 nursing homes was performed. The results were shocking. Over the course of one year, 631 medication errors were made.
A third of those errors involved seven common drugs:
These medications are used to treat serious medical conditions like heart disease, pain, blood clots, and diabetes. But when the following mistakes are made, the disease isn’t properly treated.
A Failure To Properly Mix The Compound
When medication sits on a shelf, the suspension may separate and if it is not shaken or rolled as the instructions indicate it must be, the patient may receive too much or not enough of the drug.
Crushing Or Splitting Medications
Medications that are in capsules or that are not scored for perfect splitting should never be crushed or split.
Inadequate fluids intake, inadequate food intake, or giving the incorrect dose can all result in issues with the uptake of the medication. Inhalers are another common way of administering a drug which requires specific patient positioning and metered dosing.
What Should I Do If I Suspect An Issue?
If you or a loved one suspect that a nursing home is failing to properly medicate a patient, there are several steps you can take.
- Talk to your loved one. They may have some insight into what the problem is and may be able to suggest an easy remedy.
- Discuss the situation with a doctor. Find out if the medication comes in a different form or dosage.
- Contact the head of the nursing home. Discuss your concerns with them and see if any changes can be made.
- Contact an attorney. If you are concerned for your well-being or the health of a loved one, it is always a good idea to contact an attorney.
It is never too early to get legal help – in many cases, most people are unable to visit their loved ones every day when they are in a nursing home and by the time they realize there is a problem, the issue has been going on for some time. If you delay in getting assistance, it could result in serious health complications.