Covert Administration of Medication to Persons with Dementia: Exploring Ethical Dimensions


Jenny M. Young and David Unger


      The literature, although sparse, reports that covert administration of all types of medications is prevalent in nursing homes. Whether it is ever ethically defensible, however, to administer medications covertly to persons with significant dementia is a complex and contentious question. Some scholars contend that deception is inherently wrong and is never acceptable, while others believe that deception is intrinsic to providing care to persons with dementia. With an aim to begin to reconcile these polarized positions and to objectively study this contentious issue, the authors undertake an ethical analysis of the covert administration of medications by utilizing the principles of respect for autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, and justice. Our approach examines covert administration within the context of all persons with significant dementia who are administered medications, and is aimed at providing ethical and practical guidance to clinicians who, when confronted with a patient who refuses medication, must choose the “least bad” option from among various courses of action, all of which have ethical implications. Components of a possible guideline for practice are proposed.



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