Nursing homes are often under-staffed in an effort to maximize profits or because they are underfunded. With the number of elderly people requiring care increasing at a record pace, some institutions use prescription drugs to make their residents more “manageable”. Legal and ethical issues notwithstanding, the health implications of the use of chemical restraints are terrifying.
What Is a Chemical Restraint?
Put simply, a chemical restraint is when someone’s movement or actions are restricted through pharmaceutical intervention. Types of drugs used as chemical restraints are:
- Antipsychotics; and
- Hallucinogenic anesthetics.
Drugs within these classes are effective at incapacitating human beings, but they can also have nasty side-effects, such as:
- Increased risk of diabetes;
- Depression; and/or
- Irreversible changes to the brain.
It is unfortunate for a person to require these types of medications, but it is a tragedy for them to be used on people that do not need them at all.
Chemical Restraint Use in Nursing Homes
Elderly individuals can have an array of medical, psychological, and behavioral issues. Things like dementia, Alzheimer’s, and insomnia are not easy to control. But is that an acceptable reason to overmedicate elderly people?
According to a report released by Human Rights Watch, 170,000 people are given antipsychotics without an appropriate diagnosis for the medication.
To make matters worse, neither elderly residents nor their families are informed or have consented for this treatment in many of the cases. Part of the “consent to treat” process is listing the potential side effects of care. When using antipsychotics to calm elderly people with dementia, one of the side effects is a 100% increase in the risk of death.
Why Would a Nursing Home Intentionally Overmedicate Elderly People?
The answers may startle you. One of the most common reasons for this practice is laziness. Nursing home staffs all over the country have discovered it is easier to incapacitate their residents than treat them.
Even worse, nursing home staff members have admitted to using chemical restraints as a form of revenge.
Overmedicating seniors as punishment is a known problem in nursing homes. Loose or nonexistent enforcement of federal regulations has encouraged this sort of “wild west” mentality.
Regulations and Protection of Overmedicated Elderly
Unfortunately, non-consensual administration of drugs is a difficult thing to regulate. Many elderly residents do not know if they are being “dosed”. There is a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. All to often, the people in charge are involved in the misappropriation of the drugs, so reporting of overmedication is left to the families and friends of the residents.
It is important to listen when your elderly family member is trying to tell you something. Look for changes in behavior, physical facial changes, and sudden drastic sleep schedule adjustments. Make sure consent was acquired for any new medications or therapy.
If you think your elderly loved one is the victim of overmedication or illegal chemical restraint, you may need to alert the proper authorities. You may also choose to contact an experienced elderly abuse attorney.
Christopher C. Walton, an experienced and award-winning elder abuse attorney in San Diego. Walton Law, APC focuses its practice on nursing home abuse & neglect. If you believe you or somebody you know has been subjected to abuse or neglect while residing in a Southern California nursing home, contact Chris at (866) 338-7079 for a free and confidential consultation.