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Elder Abuse of Dementia Patients

  • June 26, 2019
  • KBA Attorneys
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A sizable proportion of nursing home residents suffer from dementia or other forms of cognitive decline. While most nursing homes do their best to provide these seniors with the respect and care that they deserve, some nursing facilities are negligent and do not give seniors the proper level of care. In a worst-case scenario, this means that staff members abuse the residents. Nursing home abuse is not only against the law, but it is also grounds for a lawsuit if a loved one has been abused.

A Widespread Issue in the U.S.

There are approximately 1.5 million people residing in nursing homes in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 48 percent of nursing home residents have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. These residents are the most vulnerable because they often lack the proper cognition to understand what is going on around them. Even when they are able to understand what is happening, they are often unable to properly articulate and/or report the abuse. Oftentimes, when they do report abuse, they are not believed because of their cognitive deficits. Therefore, staff members specifically target these residents for abuse because they believe that they have a better chance of getting away with it. Unfortunately, many nursing homes escape responsibility for abuse since many incidents go unreported. Many residents with dementia live in fear that if they report incidences of abuse, the abuse will get worse. 

Signs that a resident with dementia is experiencing abuse include:

  • Lack of communication or a significantly reduced ability to communicate
  • Health issues that have rapidly developed that the resident did not previously have
  • Showing fear when any kind of care is provided
  • Showing changes in behavior such as increased aggression or agitation
  • Rapid development of Alzheimer’s disease

Overmedication of Residents with Dementia

Another form of abuse involves unnecessary medications that are given to elderly residents diagnosed with dementia. There are federal regulations that govern when a nursing home can give an antipsychotic medication to a resident. Prescribing these pills cannot be the default option, and these medications must only be given after other options have been explored. In other words, antipsychotic medications are a last resort. Drugs are also often given without the resident’s consent.

Research has found that the harmful side effects of taking antipsychotic drugs often outweighs the benefits. The use of these dangerous drugs is associated with a significantly increased risk of death in seniors with dementia. When a resident is on these medications, they must undergo continuous reevaluation. If residents no longer need these medications, then the medication regimen should be stopped. Nursing homes unnecessarily prescribing antipsychotic medications will be cited during their annual federal inspections. However, while nursing homes are given citations on their annual inspections for this, they will rarely get more than a slap on the wrist because the inspectors typically find that it did not cause actual harm to the resident. 

Nursing Homes Have Used Antipsychotic Drugs For Decades

In 1975, the U.S. Senate released a report that documented the same type of abuse in nursing homes that we still see today. The manufacturers of antipsychotic drugs have faced thousands of civil and criminal lawsuits for falsely marketing the drugs as a safe treatment option for dementia patients. The FDA has also issued a black box warning for some of these types of drugs to increase awareness of the fatal side effects and some drugs have never been approved for safe or effective use. Despite the dangerous side effects and warnings, nursing homes continue to illegally administer antipsychotic drugs to residents as a “chemical restraint.”

Negligent Care of Dementia Residents

In recent years, disturbing stories have emerged about nursing homes involuntarily drugging residents suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. This sometimes occurs because nursing homes cannot or will not do the work that is required to care for the residents. Many nursing homes lack adequate staff to help aid their residents with daily life activities. By tranquilizing patients, nursing homes can increase their profits through understaffing, ultimately resulting in deficient care and abuse. 

Unnecessary antipsychotics in nursing homes is not a new problem. While the prevalence of administering these medications with a prescription has decreased in recent years, it still impacts nearly one in five nursing home residents, according to Charlene Harrington, a professor of nursing and sociology at the University of California, San Francisco. This means that more than 15 percent of the nursing home population receives these powerful, dangerous, and unnecessary drugs. This results in lethargic seniors who may not receive proper nutrition or mental stimulation while they are under the influence of antipsychotics. 

What Can Families of Residents Do?

If a loved one with dementia is being abused in a nursing home, you should report the issue to the administrative staff of the facility. Families should also contact local law enforcement, file a report with the state’s elder abuse hotline, and meet with a nursing home abuse lawyer.

A nursing home abuse lawyer is becoming more of a necessity than ever as the quality of care at many nursing homes is on the decline. At the same time, more nursing homes are owned by private equity companies who prioritize profits over resident care in order to satisfy investors. More nursing homes are receiving the lowest possible rating on their annual inspections than in the past. 

KBA Attorneys can help families look out for the interests of their loved ones who may be experiencing abuse in nursing homes. If your loved one has suffered harm due to physical abuse, neglect or unauthorized use of antipsychotics, KBA Attorneys can help file a claim. Nursing homes will usually aggressively defend themselves against lawsuits, but KBA Attorneys have a proven track record of standing up to nursing homes’ attorneys in court. Contact us today


Alzheimer’s Association. “2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures”, Alzheimer’s Association, https://www.alz.org/media/dsw/facts2019_report.pdf. Accessed June 21, 2019.

Jan Goodwin. “Antipsychotics in Nursing Homes”, AARP Bulletin, https://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2014/antipsychotics-overprescribed.html. Accessed June 21, 2019.

Hannah Flamm. “Why Are Nursing Homes Drugging Dementia Patients Without Their Consent?”, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/08/10/8baff64a-9a63-11e8-8d5e-c6c594024954_story.html?utm_term=.5dd20b27c40a. Accessed June 21, 2019.