The crusade against overusing antibiotics seems to be getting stronger with each study that’s published, and now the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is turning its attention to the misuse of antibiotics in nursing homes and assisted living homes.
The Wall Street Journal reported that up to 70% of nursing home residents receive one or more courses of antibiotics each year, to treat problems like urinary tract infections and pneumonia. The only problem? Three out of every four prescriptions are handed out to patients who have been misdiagnosed.
Most nursing home patients who receive antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, for example, don’t even have the symptoms of a UTI. Instead, they have “vague symptoms like confusion, or bacteria in their urine, that aren’t actually causing an infection.”
The problem isn’t an easy one to solve.
Geriatric doctors tend to err on the side of caution when treating frail patients, knowing that a simple infection can balloon into a life-threatening condition overnight.
Facility nurses and staff members come and go frequently, making it difficult to monitor patients’ lasting symptoms. They often face the pressure of visiting family members asking for their relative to be treated, and as the WSJ noted, it’s common for one physician to prescribe a common antibiotic after a different physician examined the patient.
To make matters worse, the patients themselves often don’t remember their symptoms, can’t identify what they’re experiencing, or are simply ignored when they try to speak up.
It doesn’t seem that this misuse of antibiotics is intentional or meant to harm the patients; it’s simply a lack of communication.
“If the elderly person is receiving care in their home by an agency, make sure that the agency has a Registered Nurse on staff to do periodic evaluations of the senior,” says Greg Stinson, President/CEO, Comfort Keepers. “This staff resource can also be called upon in the event of a question of whether it would be wise to pursue an examination by their personal physician.”
The CDC released new guidelines in September to curb the use of antibiotics in nursing homes, according to The IUSB Preface. In the short term, prescribing too many antibiotics isn’t a very big deal. In the long term, however, it has already started encouraging the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and this could make nursing homes far more dangerous than ever before.