Scientists at the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston, Massachusetts released a study today that indicates that nursing home patients who are given SSRI antidepressants are at increased risk of suffering falls. SSRI’s are a class of anti-depressants known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, which in general act to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Common names for these drugs include Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa, and Zoloft.
The study, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, examined 1,181 cases of nursing home falls. The study reportedly discovered a five-fold increase in patient falls within 48 hours of receiving a new SSRI, or being administered higher doses of an existing SSRI that they were already taking. However, the rate appeared to decrease each day after the prescription change. In a press release, Dr. Sarah D. Berry, a scientist at the Institute for Aging Research of Hebrew Senior Life and the lead author of the study, said that “Our results identify the days following a new prescription or increased dose of a non-SSRI antidepressant as a window of time associated with a particularly high risk of falling among nursing home residents.” Berry theorized that the increased risk of falling after receiving an SSRI might be due to coordination problems caused by the medications. Berry commented that the benefits of these medications may still outweigh the increased risk of falling, so long as patients are closely monitored in the days immediately following administration of the drugs.
These findings are important because far too many nursing home patients are prescribed antidepressants, because they exhibit symptoms of depression. Ask yourself: What nursing home resident have you ever met who wouldn’t have reason to be depressed? If the average American knew what life (or more accurately, “existence,”) was really like in a nursing home, they’d be shocked. The response of most Primary Care Physicians and nursing home medical directors to dealing with the predictable depression that results when a patient is placed in a nursing home, is to put the patients on yet another medication – antidepressants. This practice has even increased in the recent past, now that medical studies have proven that administering anti-psychotic medications to nursing home residents suffering from dementia produces an increased risk of death to patients suffering from dementia. For years, patients suffering from senility and Alzheimer’s Disease were routinely prescribed anti-psychotics, due to the symptoms the disease would cause. Finally, medical studies proved that giving anti-psychotic medications to dementia patients could be fatal, so doctors switched over to prescribing these same patients antidepressants. Now, new research shows that antidepressants can cause elderly patients to lose their balance and suffer debilitating falls.
All this illustrates a broader, and far more important point: Too many nursing home medical staffs just throw darts when it comes to treating patients: They aren’t really sure that a given medication will help a patient, but then again they aren’t sure – so they reach for almost any psychoactive medication that will help “keep the patient quiet.” And the irony is that such a generalized, non-specific approach only increases the nursing home operator’s liability exposure – as prescribing antidepressants to seniors will do, if the effect is to make injuries from falls that much more likely. But that doesn’t seem to stop them.
As a Dedham Massachusetts nursing home abuse lawyer, I can assure my readers: If you have a loved one who is in a nursing home, make yourself known to the staff as someone who is there on a regular basis – and as someone who is always watching. Don’t ever stop making regular visits to your loved one – and make it clear when you are there, that you are watching everything in relation to the care (and medication management) of the patient. Otherwise, if you visit rarely or infrequently, the staff will come to know that – and the care and attention that your loved one receives will very likely drop down on their list of priorities. That’s one of those things that no nursing home administrator or owner will ever admit, but it’s true.
If a relative or someone you care about is in a nursing home and you suspect that he or she may be a victim of neglect or abuse, contact us for a free consultation. We are experts in this complex area of law, and can give you the advice you need.