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Chemical Restraints Are a Form of Nursing Home Abuse in Pennsylvania

Posted D. Joseph Chapman on Nov 04, 2013 in Nursing Home Negligence & Abuse

What’s it like to visit an elderly relative—an aunt, your grandmother—in a Pennsylvania nursing home?

Yes, it’s often sad. Your family member isn’t the vital and energetic person you remember from the past. She may even have trouble remembering your name or recalling why she no longer lives independently at home. At the same time, you feel good that there is still a bond between you. Even for brief instants there are still flashes of the person you have known all these years.

All too often, nursing home caregivers have a different impression of the residents. They don’t find them endearing or loving. They see them as sullen and withdrawn, moody, uncooperative, or even combative.

When caregivers stop thinking of their charges as people and begin to consider them burdens, the stage is set for abuse and neglect of nursing home residents. Because staff members are aware that physical restraints are easily detected and can provoke criminal charges against nursing home employees, they may instead rely on chemical restraints to control the nursing home population.

How nursing homes misuse powerful medications

It’s true that nursing home residents have higher rates of mental health and behavioral challenges than other people. In particular, rates of depression and dementia are far beyond the U.S. average for people in assisted living facilities. Sometimes medical therapy can relieve these symptoms.

But what actually happens is that many nursing home residents have been prescribed powerful antipsychotic drugs that are inappropriate for their conditions. Some estimates suggest that about one-fourth of all residents are taking these drugs, often because nursing home managers or staff have asked a doctor to prescribe them.

Antipsychotic drugs are intended to calm down patients who have schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses. They sedate the patient and suppress an agitated condition. For elderly men and women in nursing homes who do not suffer from psychosis, these drugs act as sedatives, keeping them drowsy and docile throughout the day. Worse, this sedative effect appears to strike older people more deeply because their bodies cannot clear the drugs from their systems efficiently. This means that even a healthy resident may start to show symptoms of forgetfulness and disorientation that may be taken as early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Drugging patients to control them is nursing home abuse

Our Harrisburg nursing home abuse lawyers want it clearly understood: using drugs to restrain and control patients for the convenience of caregivers is not only morally wrong, it is a form of abuse that can be punished as a crime and qualify for civil damages. It’s a deadly practice: one study estimates that more than 15,000 nursing home patients die each year as a result of unnecessary use of antipsychotic medicine.

If you find that your relative has suddenly become forgetful, unwilling to communicate, or unable to stay awake, this might be a sign that he or she is being victimized by nursing home chemical restraints. If your loved one is being force-fed inappropriate drugs, his or her life may be in danger. To learn what steps you need to take next, call us at 717-888-8888 or 888-476-0807 toll-free to speak with a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse attorney from Schmidt Kramer. We can answer your questions and work to get your relative weaned off the drugs and back to full health.