Devastating impact of physical and chemical restraint in nursing homes

Physical and chemical restraint represents a particularly insidious form of elder abuse. This form of abuse can deprive a senior nursing home resident of mobility, socialization and the ability to seek out one’s basic needs like nutrition, hydration or hygiene. Physical restraint can involve a senior being strapped down to one’s bed in isolation for days at a time.

Chemical restraint may be even more egregious resulting in an elderly nursing home resident being drugged to the point of being placed in a perpetual stupor. Nursing home doctors and staff may use anti-psychotic medication without consent to control and immobilize seniors. These psychotropic drugs can have dangerous side effects and render one virtually catatonic.

While many presume that nursing home abuse is extremely rare, there are 20 cases of abuse per year in a typical nursing home. According to an article in the New York Times, a third of all nursing home seniors are given psychotropic medications that are unnecessary and pose serious risks as a form of chemical restraint.

Nursing homes frequently are driven to increase profits by cutting corners when screening or hiring staff. It has been estimated that 90 percent of nursing homes lack sufficient staffing to provide adequate care for elderly residents. When nursing homes fail to hire enough staff or to provide appropriate training and supervision, the stress and anxiety of staff members can result in frustration and acts of abuse.

Elder nursing home abuse through psychotropic drugs can be difficult to detect

Chemical and physical restraint can be difficult for family members to identify because physical restraint may leave no physical signs when a loved one is not strapped down. When drugs are used to impose chemical restraint, the symptoms may be misinterpreted as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In a recent example, AARP has joined a class action against the Ventura Convalescent Hospital alleging that the hospital used anti-psychotic drugs on nursing home residents without the consent of their families.

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