Nursing homes play a crucial role in caring for people who are elderly or medically vulnerable when their families cannot provide sufficient care at home.
However, nursing homes aren’t always what they should be. When they’re understaffed or poorly run, nursing homes sometimes resort to the use of “chemical restraints” to keep difficult patients under control. Chemical restraints are medications prescribed solely to manage a patient’s behavior. Typically, these are antipsychotics, sedatives or tranquilizers – or some combination of the three.
Why are these problematic?
There are times when the use of chemical restraints are necessary to keep a patient from injuring themselves and others. They can also help a patient who is suffering from anxiety, depression and panic attacks – but the indiscriminate use of chemical restraints as tools of convenience for the staff or punishment for a resident’s disruptive behavior isn’t acceptable.
In addition, there are other problems, including:
- The lack of informed consent: Residents’ family members aren’t always informed of the dangers of the drugs that their loved ones are receiving. Many psychotropic drugs can cause adverse effects, including increased memory difficulties, withdrawal, muscle weakness or spasms and low blood pressure.
- Overmedication: When residents are given drugs every time the staff wants them to quiet down, that can lead to an overall decline in their physical and mental well-being. That can also lead to the indiscriminate use of the medication in excessive dosages.
- Masking: When a facility’s first response to a patient’s agitation or aggressive behavior is to resort to chemical restraints, they may overlook the warning signs of other medical issues. For example, delirium or psychosis is common among older women with untreated urinary tract infections.
Finally, the widespread use of chemical restraints can mean that a nursing home isn’t exploring alternatives that can effectively address behavioral issues, including personalized care plans, physical activity programs, therapy and social enrichment plans. The lack of physical and mental stimulation can cause an elderly person to rapidly and permanently decline.
If you believe that your loved one has suffered from medical neglect or medical abuse as a result of the use of chemical restraints in a nursing home, you should be asking questions. It may also help to seek legal guidance in order to explore your rights and options.