UR Opinion

Over medicating our elderly...

Zaineb Al

By Zaineb Al

Over-medicating our elderly...

My name is Zaineb and I am currently a fourth year student in the Bachelors of Nursing Science at the university of Ottawa. While obtaining my nursing degree, I worked as a registered practical nurse in a retirement home. During my three and a half years of employment, I witnessed first hand the many issues we run into when working in long-term care settings. The elderly population whom I worked with, a large percentage of them had a diagnosis of a mental illness effecting their cognition. Often times their mental illness altered their behaviour causing them to become combative and confused towards nursing staff and others.

In 1996, it was reported that there were 240,000 individuals living in nursing homes, this number is expected to increase by 18% in 2021. Furthermore, studies have shown 80-90% of those living in long-term care suffer from mental disorders. Given this high prevalence of mental disorders, antipsychotic medications are often given as means to handle those residents.

We often run into the problem of polypharmacy in elderly as we try to combat their comorbidities simultaneously. Polypharmacy means being on a multitude of drugs all at once, which could cause adverse effects, and in order to treat those adverse effects, other medications have to be administered. Over use of medications (at least one of which is an antipsychotic) ends up being a vicious cycle for the elderly.

Although, I disagree with the use of medications to control those patients but at times, that is all you have. Most of these drug combinations and especially antipsychotics, lead to death. However, when the nurse-resident ratio is 80:1 in retirement home and lesser in nursing homes as the patients become heavier chemical sedation is our only means of ensuring their safety and others’. Let us not talk about the nurse to patient ratio because that will be another few pages.

Evidence showed a concerning number of cases where over use of medications led to death in the elderly. This is the opening statement of one of the articles I came across: “Ontario nursing homes are drugging helpless seniors at an alarming rate with powerful antipsychotic drugs, despite warnings that the medications can kill elderly patients suffering from dementia”. So really, what does it say about our long-term care system??? Instead of providing QUALITY care, we are just putting a Band-Aid on a very big scar.

What I am trying to get at is, hire more nurses so we are not just over-medicating and, what we are REALLY doing is, killing those poor old souls. This is not ok, but what choice do nurses have when there isn’t that many of us in those settings?

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