Doctors Overprescribing Dangerous Drugs to Nursing Home Patients July 5, 2012.

A study published in the Journals of Gerontology found that a whopping 71 percent of new nursing home residents are given some kind of psychoactive drug. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that most of these residents had no psychiatric diagnosis or treatment prior to being admitted. The study also found that 15 percent of residents were taking four or more psychoactive medications, while only 12 percent were undergoing non-drug-related treatment, such as behavioral therapy.

The over-prescription of psychoactive drugs is a recipe for disaster, especially among nursing home residents, who already take an average of seven to eight prescription medications, per Piling one or more psychoactive drugs on top of other prescription medications only increases the risk of adverse drug interactions, including further health problems, hospitalizations, or death.

Clearly, doctors are relying too heavily on psychoactive drugs when treating elderly patients. But why?

Some experts blame the lure of a "quick fix." A pill provides a quicker and simpler solution than repeated consultations with psychiatrists, psychologists, or other mental health experts.

"I suspect what happens is, at 3 a.m., Mrs. A. starts yelling in her bed. The aide tries to calm her down and can’t, so the nurse calls the consulting physician and gets Mrs. A on a tranquilizer — and she stays on it, whether or not she needs it," psychologist Victor Molinari told the New York Times.

Knowing this, how can you protect loved ones living in nursing homes? Keep track of the drugs they take and monitor the effects of those medications. If your elderly relative seems more confused after a change in his or her drug regimen, be sure to tell the director of nursing, not the aide. Though aides provide the bulk of hands-on care, they do not have authority to make medication changes. Also try to attend planning conferences so that you can raise any concerns about the patient’s care with the staff.

If you live in Cleveland, Ohio, and have a family member who has been mistreated at a nursing home, consider contacting an experienced lawyer who specializes in nursing home abuse and can advise you and your loved ones of their legal rights.