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How Nursing Homes Should Manage Psychological Issues

Deciding to enter a nursing home can be one of the most difficult of a person’s life, and making this decision when the elderly person has psychological ailments renders that decision even more trying. Patients with histories of mental illness, even conditions as common as anxiety or depression, are more likely to be identified as a suicide risk. Our team of nursing home negligence lawyers wants to highlight the responsibilities nursing homes have to higher-risk patients, and how their psychological issues should be addressed.

Abuse and particularly neglect in nursing homes can be difficult to articulate and recognize for families. Oftentimes, neglect is the result of nothing more than understaffing and inadequate resources. For residents with psychological issues, however, employees may be tempted to medicate residents with drugs they are not prescribed to in order to subdue unruly behavior.

Depression is a Common, Chronic Problem among the Elderly

One recent study examined the prevalence, persistence and incidence of depression in nursing home residents and what risks the condition carries. Researchers took a sample of over 900 randomly-selected nursing home residents and assessed them for clinical depression, dementia, physical health and self-maintenance.

After one year of study, researchers noticed that rates of depression were tied with higher age, worsening physical conditions, not participating in daily activities, and severity of dementia. The prevalence of depression among the 900 residents was just over 21% during initial study, and after follow-up the persistence rate was nearly 45%.

Residents were more likely to be depressed if they were unmarried, had recently been admitted to the nursing home, or used antidepressants or anxiolytics (a drug to prevent anxiety, such as Xanax or Valium). The other factor most strongly associated with incidence and persistence of depression was severe dementia, as stated earlier.

How this can Affect Your Elderly Loved One

Some suggest that depression and other psychological symptoms can help predict falls among nursing home residents. One group of researches sought to test this theory and examined over 1,000 nursing home residents, tracking their use of medication, education, demographic data, dementia severity, and physical self-maintenance, among other factors.

About 40% of participants reported experiencing at least one fall over the 12-month study period, and analysis revealed that the factors most associated with fall rates were low level of education, severe dementia, severe psychological and behavioral symptoms, depression, and use of sedatives. Having psychological issues was one of the most significant indicators of fall risk.

Falls in nursing homes cause devastating, even fatal injuries, particularly when they occur frequently. Because of this, studies that identify the predictors and contributing factors of falls are extremely valuable both to the healthcare community and individuals with loved ones in nursing homes. If you know your elderly loved one is depressed, has dementia, or is taking any medications for psychological issues, you should notify the nursing home so they are aware of their heightened fall risk.

Once the risk is known, facility employees can take an array of measures to help prevent them, such as assistance while moving around the facility or encouraging physical activities to strengthen muscles. Certain protocols can be taken if residents pose a high suicide risk, like increased monitoring and more frequent physician visits.

Nursing home employees have a legal responsibility to care for residents with psychological needs and to react promptly if the resident demonstrates any signs of suicidality or worsened depression. Family members who lost a loved one to suicide or injuries sustained in a fall may be able to file a legal claim against the facility. Employees, administrations, or the nursing home’s parent company may be liable for failing to take proper precautions to prevent such accidents from occurring. Nursing home negligence lawyers at Pintas & Mullins can help you discern if neglect or abuse was involved, and offer free legal evaluations to families nationwide.