December 27, 2012
For the last nine years, nursing home patients in North Carolina have depended on a government-funded reporting system, known as the Medication Error Quality Initiative (MEQI), which reports nursing home medication errors to the general public. The reporting system, which is meant to hold nursing homes accountable for their actions, also has been key in tracking the number medication errors in the state. It has not only been prominent in targeting problems that can lead to North Carolina Nursing Home Abuse, but also has been a vital part in creating a paper trail for errors; however, beginning in the new year, the MEQI will be eliminated.
According to a press release from the University of North Carolina’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, which has overseen the program since its inception in 2003, funding will no longer be provided at the end of the year. This means that beginning Jan. 1, 2013, nursing homes will no longer have to report medication errors to the system, and access to past errors will only be available through the end of March 2013.
The North Carolina Personal Injury Lawyers with HensonFuerst Injury Lawyers recognize the loss of the system will make it more important than ever for nursing home patients who have been affected by medication errors to explore their legal rights while having an experienced attorney on their side.
It’s a cause for hope and optimism: Today is the first day in a new push to help individuals and families affected by Alzheimer’s disease. According to an article on WRAL.com:
The Obama administration declared Alzheimer’s one of the country’s biggest health challenges on Tuesday, adopting a national strategy that sets the clock ticking toward better treatments by 2025 — along with help for suffering families today.
“What we know is a lot more needs to be done and it needs to be done right now, because people with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones and caregivers need help right now,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in announcing the first National Alzheimer’s Plan.
The very first step has already been completed: a brand-new website—www.Alzheimers.gov—that offers information for patients and caregivers. The site provides basic information about the disease, treatment options, how to pay for treatment, caregiver services, local help resources, and Alzheimer’s disease research programs.
In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to spend an additional $50 million on Alzheimer’s disease treatment research this year.
“These actions are the cornerstones of an historic effort to fight Alzheimer’s disease,” Kathleen Sebelius said.
According to an article from CBS News, initial steps will include:
—A planned $8 million study of an insulin nasal spray that pilot-testing suggests could help Alzheimer’s. It’s based on growing evidence that diabetes and Alzheimer’s are related, damaging how the brain is fueled. The insulin nasal spray can reach the brain without affecting blood-sugar levels.
—Also, NIH was contributing $16 million to an international study of whether a treatment targeting amyloid, Alzheimer’s hallmark brain plaque, could prevent the disease. The study will include people at highest risk, genetically, of the disease, including Americans and a unique group in Colombia.
—The government will begin offering training to doctors and other health providers on the best ways to care for patients and their families.
“This is a strong plan that promises important progress when implemented,” said Harry Johns, president of the Alzheimer’s Association.
This is very exciting for anyone whose family has been touched by Alzheimer’s disease. This disorder has a history of draining hope at the same rate it drains memory. This is good news…for a change.
To read the full story on WRAL.com, click here: Clock Ticking with New Plan
To read the full story on CBS News, click here: New Plan to Fight Alzheimer’s
Government’s new website: www.Alzheimers.gov
For older adults, falls are a major health problem: Falls are the leading cause of brain injury among seniors, and are linked to a risk of death due to complications from hip fractures. If we could find a way to prevent falls, it would prevent a lot of pain, suffering, early death, and medical costs. Now, researchers have made a discovery that could lead to fewer falls among the elderly.
Dr. Frank Lin from Johns Hopkins and Dr. Luigi Ferrucci of the National Institute on Aging reviewed five years of information from more than 2,000 people ages 40 to 69. They looked at demographic information, balance, falls, cardiovascular function, vision and hearing. It turns out that the greater the hearing loss, the greater the chance of falling.
According to a Johns Hopkins press release, people with mild hearing loss (25 decibels) were three times more likely to have a history of falling. And every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss increased the chances of falling by an additional 40%.
Why might this be so? One reason is that people who can’t hear well might not have good awareness of their overall environment, making tripping and falling more likely. Another reason might be that hearing loss could overwhelm the brain by making additional demands, or “cognitive load.”
“Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding,” Dr. Lin says. “If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait.”
No matter why hearing loss is linked to falls, it stands to reason that correcting hearing loss could help prevent falls. Many people with hearing loss resist seeking treatment–they don’t want to end up with a hearing aid. That’s more frustrating for the people around them than for the person with hearing loss. Maybe knowing that they could prevent winding up in the hospital after a fall could spur more folks to give in and get a hearing aid. This is one time when vanity could be both expensive an painful.
North Carolina is notorious for its wild daily temperature swings. You might start the day needing long sleeves and long pants, change to shorts by lunchtime, then put on a jacket after sunset. For most of us, this is nothing more than a minor sartorial inconvenience; but for people over age 65, temperature swings can be dangerous to their health.
According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, even seemingly small changes in summer temperature swings–changes as tiny as 2° F–may shorten life expectancy for people with chronic medical conditions. According to the lead scientist for the study, Antonella Zonobetti of the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH):
“The effect of temperature patterns on long-term mortality has not been clear to this point. We found that, independent of heat waves, high day to day variability in summer temperatures shortens life expectancy. This variability can be harmful for susceptible people.”
Previous studies have confirmed the association between heat waves and higher death rates. But this new research goes a step further. Although heat waves can kill in the short term, the authors say, even minor temperature variations caused by climate change may also increase death rates over time among elderly people with diabetes, heart failure, chronic lung disease, or those who have survived a previous heart attack.
The research showed that for each 2° F increase in summer temperature change, there was a 2.8% to 4% increase in death rate for susceptible seniors. Calculations suggest that summer temperature swings could account for more than 10,000 additional deaths per year.
Why? What could that tiny temperature fluctuation do that is so dangerous?
Researchers say that older people and those with chronic health conditions have a hard time adjusting to extreme heat. As their bodies struggle to adjust, the elderly experience physiological stress, which can cause frail or sick bodies to become sicker.
Although there is not much to be done about this, Dr. Robert Glatter, interviewed for WebMD, says that friends, relatives, and neighbors should try to keep a closer eye on people with chronic health problems, not just on days with blazing heat, but also during sudden weather snaps.
“Watch for any changes in their daily vital signs and complaints,” says Glatter, [an emergency medicine specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York] who was not involved in the study. “Make sure you’re listening very carefully to their complaints.”
Make sure the elderly have appropriate temperature controls in their living environments, and provide them with air conditioning and fans, if possible. And if your loved one lives in a nursing home, spend a full day there in the summer to see how well the facility controls temperature.
To read the full story on WebMD, click here: Summer Temperature Swings
In keeping with our on-going series, today’s blog is about nursing home tragedy. We collect stories from around the world to remind everyone that the elderly are vulnerable to abusers and unscrupulous care facilities. If there is a lesson to be taken from these stories, it is that friends and family of nursing home residents need to visit often, stay involved, and speak up if anything seems unusual.
Here’s today’s nursing home story round-up:
Whose Meth Lab Was It?
Investigation of a deadly fire at Park Haven Home in Ashtabula, Ohio, revealed that the blaze began in a resident’s room…where someone had created a shake-and-bake meth lab. The man who died, 31-year-old Shaun Warrens, was not a patient or an employee of the facility. As of this writing, it’s not clear what connections he had to the nursing home. Three residents and one non-resident were hospitalized with injuries caused by the fire.
According to an article by the Associated Press:
Police Chief Robert Stell told the Star Beacon of Ashtabula that police believe two visitors and one Park Haven resident knew about the meth lab. Police expect to charge two men who also were burned in the fire.
Methamphetamine, or “meth,” is a highly addictive stimulant. Mobile meth labs, also called one-pot or shake-and-bake labs, usually consist of a 2-liter bottle and the drug’s ingredients. According to Bob Frey, of the health department:
“Basically, you can take all of the components and equipment and put it in a backpack and use it to brew a small quantity of methamphetamine,” he said. “It’s a highly dangerous but very self-contained method of making methamphetamine.”
Shaking the mixture agitates the chemicals and produces the heat needed to cook the drug. But it can also cause a violent reaction that could melt or rupture the container. The explosion or fire usually is confined to the person making the drug and the surrounding area, Frey said.
Meth is a problem nationwide, but it’s highly uncommon in a nursing home setting. I’m not sure whether this speaks more to the expansion of meth’s addictive reach, or to the changing demographics of nursing homes. As addiction spreads, it eventually reaches all segments of society.
To read the full story, click here: http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/nursing-home-with-meth-1374675.html
Jailed for Facebook Photos
According to the Daily Reporter, 26-year-old Oregon nursing assistant Nai Mai Chao served eight days in jail after a jury found her guilty of invasion of personal privacy. Some believe that her crime should have brought a much higher punishment.
“Invasion of personal privacy” sounds so innocuous, doesn’t it? What Ms. Chao did was awful: She took disturbing photos of elderly and disabled patients using bedpans, then posted them on Facebook. Ms. Chao surrendered her nursing certificate, and was fired from the Regency Pacific Nursing and Rehab Center where she worked.
To read the full story, click here: http://www.greenfieldreporter.com/view/story/5365bdb7f2544ef9a21be69e5d6f1d4f/US–Nursing-Home-Photos/
British Elderly Denied Basic Care
According to an article in The Telegraph, more than half of nursing home residents are denied even basic health services. Some have to wait up to three months for formal checks of painful conditions, such as bed sores… some face significant delays in getting their medication… and many are not given a choice of male or female staff to help them use the bathroom, raising issues of dignity and respect.
The Geriatrics Society issued results of a study that showed that about half of primary care facilities don’t even provide key services, such as continence assessments, physiotherapy, bed sore checks, and mental health services. According to the president of the society:
“What it shows is that there is a massive disconnect between what the NHS aspires to and what it actually delivers to people in care homes and they are the most vulnerable group of people.
To read the full story, click here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/elderhealth/9126976/More-than-half-care-home-residents-denied-basic-care-unpublished-data-shows.html
Vulnerable, Inside and Out
When you have to rely on other people for your daily care, you have to trust that you won’t be taken advantage of. Unfortunately, the elderly are often more vulnerable to scammers, cheats, and liars. Case in point: 64-year-old Surjeet Chana, a British “grandmother” who worked in the Land Registry office. She used her position to supply documents to a white-collar gang that stole houses from elderly people who had moved into nursing facilities.
According to an article in The Telegraph:
Using information she gathered, including title deeds and ownership signatures, the group targeted empty homes, pretending to be the owners and selling them on to third parties.
Over the past two years, the gang sold at least nine properties across London, worth a combined value of about $8 million. The judge who sentenced Chana to more than 3 years in prison called her “greedy” and “corrupted.”
You have brought great shame on yourself and your family, you have ruined your career and no doubt prejudiced your pension rights.
Judge Grieve added the gang preyed on “highly vulnerable” victims whose family homes which had a “lifetime of memories” were sold from beneath their noses. “It takes little imagination to realise the shattering trauma that this experience would bring,” he said.
To read the full story, click here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9126384/Grandmother-jailed-after-plot-to-steal-homes-from-elderly.html
One Final Insult
Even after a resident died, one nursing home went the final, abusive step. In Great Britain, the Highcliffe Nursing Home sent a bill for the equivalent of about $4,740.00 because the dead man didn’t give 4 weeks notice of his death. Got that? The nursing home claims that unless they receive advance notice of a resident’s death, the resident (or his family) can be charged for an extra month’s stay at the facility. They claim that the charge is valid…similar to not giving a month’s notice before moving out of an apartment.
According to an article in the British newspaper The Daily Mail, the resident’s daughter felt that her father had been well cared-for while he lived at the facility, but she questions the crazy charge.
“I wouldn’t mind paying for a week,” she said. “But to pay for a month – which covers his food, laundry and nursing care – is daylight robbery.”
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the billing department was overly efficient. The bereaved daughter received the notice the day after her father’s funeral. The nursing home administrators claim they are reviewing this policy.
To read the full story, click here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2104184/Care-home-bills-grieving-daughter-3k-didnt-notice-fathers-DEATH.html#ixzz1oY2dZafV
As the saying goes, you cannot fully understand what another person’s life is like until you “walk a mile in their shoes.” That’s the point behind an innovative training program designed to help caregivers truly appreciate what life is like for their loved ones with dementia. According to an article on GoErie.com, a division of the Pennsylvania newspaper the Erie Times-News:
“You don’t know what they go through until you do this test yourself,” said [Patty Gregory, a certified nursing assistant at Saint Mary's Home of Erie]. “I took care of my father for 12 years, and now I truly know what he went through.”
In order to give caregivers a taste of what what an elderly person with dementia experiences, this is what they go through:
The caregivers were then escorted to an empty patient room and told to perform five simple tasks—such as pouring half a glass of water and folding towels—but they had to listen to instructions through the static and noise, or read a list in which the words were scrambled. It was a difficult chore. According to the article:
“Where’s the water, where’s the water, where’s the water?” nursing assistant Alice Flemings said after entering the training room. “Oh my, oh my. Where am I going?”
“Take your time and calm down,” said DeAndra Jackson, a Saint Mary’s Home employee whose job during training was to ensure the nursing assistant did not walk into a door or otherwise hurt themselves.
Some nursing assistants were able to complete most of their tasks, while others struggled to finish even one.
One nursing assistant, who asked not to be identified, was so visibly aggravated when she walked out of the simulation room that Jackson jokingly called her a “noncompliant patient.”
The exercise helped caregivers to understand that it takes more patience to work with people with dementia and physical impairments, and that hurrying them along may only serve to make them agitated.
“My love for people has never changed and never will change,” Gregory said. “But until you walk in that room, you will never know the deep impact a disease like dementia can have.”
Such a fascinating program. It seems that this type of training should be required for anyone who works in a nursing home.
To read the full article, click here: Erie nursing home shows aides what dementia is like
The U.S. government’s 5-Star ratings of the nations nursing homes are in!
While these results are not as glamorous as the Oscars or the Grammys… okay, they are not glamorous at all, but they are significantly more meaningful than entertainment awards, and they affect more of us much more directly. Currently, about 7.5% of Americans currently live in nursing homes. With the current trends in costs of care, health concerns, and the number of aging Baby Boomers, it has been estimated that about 11 million people will be likely to require assistance in old age within the next 10 to 20 years. That makes it essential that we understand what makes a “good” nursing home or a “bad” nursing home, and how to find the good ones.
Every year the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) publish the results of their 5-Star Quality Ratings of nursing homes. The Five-Star Quality Rating System was created to help consumers, their families, and caregivers compare nursing homes more easily, and help identify areas about which you may want to ask questions. Nursing home ratings are taken from three sources of data:
Each of these areas is individually rated, and then these three ratings are combined to calculate an Overall Rating.
The lowest overall rating is awarded to homes “much below average” compared with others in their state, according to CMS. Among problems that can drop a rating: consistently dirty equipment and linens, mistreatment and unlicensed caregivers or specialists.
USA TODAY Analyzes Ratings
The CMS Nursing Home Compare data only list the most recent star ratings, but it doesn’t provide a history for consumers. Now, USA TODAY prices an analysis of the ratings for more than 15,000 nursing homes over the past 3 years. Among their findings:
Here’s how to see specific nursing home ratings from the past three years:
USA TODAY article: Fewer seniors live in nursing homes
To see the full reports AND to search for specific nursing homes by name or location, see the Nursing Home Compare page here: Nursing Home Compare
To see the HensonFuerst video about how to choose a good nursing home, click here: How to Choose a Good Nursing Home (and Avoid the Bad Ones)
BINGO is a fun activity for many people, but especially those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Now, researchers have discovered that BINGO has benefits that go way beyond passing the time: Bingo seems to boost thinking and playing skills, especially among people with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
According to an article on ScienceDaily, as people age, they begin to lose sensitivity to perceive contrasts…and this problem is worse in people with dementia. The researchers tested different types of specially-made bingo cards, and discovered that improving contrast and increasing the size of the cards improved the players’ skills. In fact, increasing contrast in the environment made living easier for the seniors, too.
For example, putting a black sofa in a white room would improve the contrast of the room and make it easier for individuals to move about. Additionally, they found that individuals with dementia actually eat more if they use a white plate and tableware on a dark tablecloth or are served food that contrasts the color of the plate.
These types of simple interventions could help people with dementia remain independent longer, and give them greater enjoyment of life overall.
To read the full article on ScienceDaily, click here: BINGO!
Alzheimer’s disease makes just about everyone’s short list of aging fears. The disorder robs individuals of their memories…their sense of self…their connection to friends and family. It’s hard on everyone who has to watch their loved one disappear before their eyes.
Now, scientific research published in The Archives of Neurology offers a small—but statistically significant—ray of hope for anyone hoping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The answer: Walking!
The scientists studied 201 healthy adults (ages 45 to 88). The participants were tested for genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease, and were given a brain scan to look for signs of amyloid plaques, the abnormal protein deposits that are a characteristic of the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Fifty-six participants tested positive for the APOE-e4 gene, a marker that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by a factor of 15. None of the participants had signs of Alzheimer’s disease at the beginning of the study. Finally, everyone completed detailed questionnaires about their exercise habits.
According to an article in The New York Times:
The volunteers who reported walking or jogging often — meeting (or, in rare instances, exceeding) the American Heart Association’s exercise recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity five times a week — had fewer amyloid plaques than the volunteers who reported almost never exercising….
The carriers of the gene who reported walking or jogging for at least 30 minutes five times a week had plaque accumulation similar to that of volunteers who were e4-negative. In essence, the APOE-e4 gene carriers mitigated their inherited risk for developing Alzheimer’s by working out.
So moderate exercise was protective against Alzheimer’s disease…even for people who have an extremely high genetic risk of developing the disease. The scientists have a lot more work to do to figure out why exercise is protective, but for the average person, the take-home lesson is that exercise should become a part of daily health habits for everyone—but especially for those with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease.
“There are so many benefits to exercise,” [Denise Head, an associate professor of psychology at Washington University who led the study] says, “and one may be that it helps the brain” to defend itself against the slow leaking away of memory.
Now that’s science we can get behind!
True or false: All suspicious deaths are investigated so that justice can be done if foul play is discovered.
Answer: It depends on how old you are.
According to an article on the website ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative newsroom, and PBS’s Frontline, if a senior citizen died under suspicious circumstances, there’s no guarantee that anyone will ever investigate. Although it is impossible to know exactly how many suspicious deaths have been signed off as due to natural causes, the evidence uncovered points to a significant problem. When investigators look closely at deaths of elderly people, they discover many cases of mistreatment, abuse, and even murder.
Case in point: 76-year-old Joseph Shepter was living in a nursing home after a stroke paralyzed much of his body and dementia took away his ability to communicate. When he died, the nursing home’s chief medical officer listed the cause of death as heart failure. No one examined the death any further…until a tip from a staffer at the nursing home prompted the state to re-examine the case.
It was discovered that Shepter died of a combination of ailments related to poor care, including infected ulcer, pneumonia, dehydration, and sepsis. In addition, his death was hastened by antipsychotic drugs—drugs he didn’t need. (We have written about the problem of inappropriate use of dangerous antipsychotic medications. To read that blog, click here: Antipsychotic Drugs Over-Prescribed in Elderly) According to ProPublica:
Dr. Michael Dobersen, a forensic pathologist and the coroner for Arapahoe County, Colo., said he worries about suspicious deaths in nursing homes. “Sometimes, if I don’t want to sleep at night, I think about all the cases that we miss,” Dobersen said. “I’m afraid we’re not looking very hard.”
How Can This Happen?
The reason so many suspicious deaths are overlooked is because of a number of systemic flaws:
And then there is what is arguably the most common reason of all: Ageism. According to geriatrician Kathryn Locatell, who specializes in diagnosing elder abuse, it all boils down to ageism. She said, “We don’t value old people. We don’t want to think about ourselves getting old.”
Catherine Hawes, a Texas A&M health-policy researcher who has studied elder abuse for the U.S. Department of Justice, agrees, calling the issue a “hidden national scandal.” She interviewed 40 coroners and medical examiners about how they handled deaths among senior citizens. They told her that they were reluctant to perform autopsies.
“Many of them made the blanket assumption that when an elderly person dies, it must have been because ‘their time had come,’” she said. “But they don’t make that assumption about any other part of the population.”
A Need to Keep Eyes Open
It’s a sad fact that many legislators work to pass laws that reflect their own experiences, which is why it is so difficult to understand why there are so few safeguards for the elderly. We’ve all had parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and many of them have ended up in nursing homes. Is it that they were among the lucky ones who had perfect care for their loved ones? Or could it be that no one wants to believe that their loved ones were victims who died painful deaths?
For example, Joe Shepter, the son of Joseph Shepter ”used to think that his father ‘died a somewhat peaceful death’ surrounded by caring professionals. Instead, he now believes, his “father was lying in a hospital bed essentially dying of thirst, unable to express himself….”
It’s a difficult thought to have to live with. There’s no going back from something like that. But it is worth knowing. In fact, some communities are developing new strategies for pinpointing suspicious deaths. For example, some counties formed elder death review teams made up of police, prosecutors, adult protective services, the medical examiner, emergency personnel, and others. They are similar to the kinds of teams used by child-abuse investigators. It’s a way to make sure that more than one set of eyes is responsible for looking for signs of abuse.
It’s also a way to make sure that the elderly get justice…eventually, if belatedly.
To read the full article on ProPublica.org, click here: Gone Without a Case