Let us say your elderly mother is in a nursing home. She has severe knee problems, uses a wheelchair and takes Vicodin for ongoing pain and Valium for anxiety.
Lately, you notice she appears disoriented and has uncharacteristic mood swings. Is this just advancing age, or is there another problem related to the prescription medication she takes?
Misuse versus abuse
Seniors may grow to depend on the drugs they take for legitimate health issues, such as pain, anxiety or depression. To achieve greater relief, they may increase their dosage without a doctor knowing. This is a misuse of prescription medication, and it is much more common among elderly people than drug abuse, which is willfully taking drugs that bring about a feeling of pleasure or euphoria. On the other hand, the fault may lie elsewhere. A patient usually accepts without question what a pharmacist dispenses or a physician prescribes.
Common medications for seniors
Opioids treat pain. Because of her painful knees, your mom may have been taking Vicodin for years. The danger here is that she might become dependent on this kind of medication. Benzodiazepines are also common for elderly people to take because they can treat anxiety and insomnia. Doctors also prescribe them for bipolar disorder. Examples are Valium and Xanax, but these medications can be habit-forming and should not be mixed with certain other medications.
Your mother has resided at the nursing home for nearly a year, but this is the first time you have observed that something appears to be wrong. Disorientation, personality changes, increasing withdrawal from social contact and a change in appetite could signal a problem with the medications your mom takes. If these symptoms began to appear recently, you wonder if there is a link to the new doctor who joined the nursing home staff. Has he prescribed the right medication? The right dosage? There is also a different nurse since the one who used to care for your mom left her job to get married. Continue to be watchful. If your mother’s symptoms continue, you will want to take action, which may mean exploring your legal options.