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Recognizing the Abuse of Chemical Restraints in Nursing Home Patients

Chemical restraint is the process of giving psychoactive drugs to an individual in an effort to sedate and control them.  In a nursing home setting, this may be necessary to protect the health of an individual diagnosed with certain mental conditions.  However, it is estimated that nearly 21% of patients given psychoactive drugs in a nursing home do not have a mental condition requiring them.

There are many theories as to the prevalence and use of chemical restraints in nursing homes, including the possibility that drugs are being used on the elderly to reduce the need for individualized care.  Nursing home care has turned in to big business for both the providers and the drug companies they utilize.   Reductions in care can result in more potential profit.

Beyond the question of ethics, the use of psychoactive drugs in patients that do not need them creates real physical risk.  If a patient already has health issues that warrant medication use, the threat of overdose or harmful interactions may be intensified by the additional use of psychoactive drugs.  And, the risk of falling or other physical injury may be increased through the use of psychoactive drugs, leading to more serious immobility issues and even wrongful death.

Regardless of the motive behind chemical restraint, you need to be aware of the warning signs if you believe a loved one may be chemically restrained  excessively or without cause.  These include:

1)    a drastic change in personality, awareness and recognition,
2)    tics, tremors or involuntary body movements,
3)    excessive sedation or lethargy; body weakness,

4)    anxiety, agitation or insomnia,
5)    confusion, hallucinations, or delirium, and/or
6)    physical changes, such as dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, weight gain or loss.

While some of these changes may be brought on by conditions other than chemical restraint, it is important to remain mindful of the care your loved one is receiving in a nursing home facility.  If you suspect the inappropriate use of chemical restraint, there are many state and local resources you can contact to report this abuse. The Adult Protective Services Department of New Mexico has a toll-free number for state-wide intake at 1-866-654-3219.  If your loved one is at risk, make the call.  You would want to same for yourself is such a weakened state.