A year into the COVID-19 pandemic and finally, vaccine rollouts across the country are giving elderly nursing home residents and their families new hope. The pandemic has kept family members separated for months at a time, many going long stretches between meaningful interactions. With more people being vaccinated, especially the elderly and nursing home residents who were some of the first to become vaccinated, family members are eagerly reunited.

However, these reunions are not always happy ones. A new report by a human rights organization finds that many family members seeing their loved ones for the first time in months, even a year, are shocked by their first in-person meeting.

The report highlights the stories of some family members reunited with their elderly loved ones. These families found that in just a few months, the neglect and isolation of the pandemic have dramatically impacted their family member’s health and mental cognition. Malnourishment, significant weight loss, dehydration, and untreated bedsores were the most common complaints.

Understaffing and nursing shortages were a problem well before the pandemic hit. The COVID-19 crisis only compounded the problem and made shortages worse. Too few caregivers mean too little time spent with elderly residents. Basic needs such as food, water, hygiene, and medical care were not adequately being met, and family members were horrified.

A secondary side effect from the isolation and neglect has been a significant decline in elderly resident’s mental health and cognition. Family members who just recently reunited with their loved ones also noticed signs of depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, and other negative mental health conditions. Studies have shown that elderly residents subjected to neglect and mental isolation have a much higher mortality risk. Some residents stop eating, refuse to take medication, and appear to give up on life. Others will ultimately commit suicide.

One more shocking detail covered in the report is the often-overlooked use of “chemical restraints” in elderly nursing home residents. A chemical restraint is a psychoactive drug that is prescribed or administered to an elderly individual to help manage uncooperative behaviors. These drugs can be useful for treating certain disorders such as depression and anxiety, but studies are clear: they must be administered carefully to the elderly.

In fact, certain drugs should not be used in elderly patients at all because of the health risks and side effects. A 2018 report on psychoactive drug use in nursing homes shows that in some areas of Kentucky, at least 45 percent of nursing home residents were on some type of antipsychotic medication.

Due to the relaxation of some data reporting requirements during the pandemic, it is still unclear whether the use of psychoactive drugs on nursing home residents is on the rise. There is some speculation that the drugs are being used to keep patients quiet and more sedated because of the pandemic and nursing shortages.

One nursing home caregiver told the reporting organization that at least half of the residents she cares for had been put on psychotropic drugs at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Some family members have expressed concerns that the medication is not being prescribed for “mental health reasons” but is simply being used as a tool for sedation and complicity.

While it may still be too early to tell if chemical restraint use is on the rise, there seems to be little question that neglect and other forms of nursing home abuse are. Family members should be thrilled to be able to hug their elderly relatives again, and yet many are left stunned and saddened by the sight of their loved ones.

If you have reunited with your loved one and are concerned that they have been neglected or abused, contact the experienced legal team at Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP for help. Let’s discuss your family member’s situation and review your legal options. Don’t hesitate to share your suspicions. Call us at (859) 550-2900 and talk to a skilled nursing home abuse attorney today.