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Chemical Restraints In Nursing Homes Now Considered An Epidemic

Garcia & Artigliere

Where once nursing homes residents were restrained by leather bonds or cloth ties, many nursing home staff are now relying on chemicals to sedate and to control residents.

A May 2011 United States Department of Health and Human Services study by the Office of the Inspector General found that 305,000 (about 14%) nursing home residents had Medicare claims for atypical antipsychotic drugs. Of these, about 1 in 5 residents were prescribed antipsychotics in a manner that violated government standards. For example, they may be given for too long a time or in too high a dose.

Reports of inappropriate use of drugs on the elderly are reported from all 50 states. For example, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform report that nearly 60% of all California nursing home residents are given psychoactive drugs, a 30% increase since 2000.

A study in Florida that was published in the Journal of Gerontology, October 2009, found that 71% of new Florida nursing home residents were put on psychoactive medications within 3 months of admission, and 15% of Florida nursing home residents were put on 4 or more drugs.

Psychoactive drugs contain powerful chemicals designed to influence the brain in order to change a person’s mood, cognition, personality, behavior, and/or level of consciousness. Within this class are:

  • Antipsychotics: Designed to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychosis, they are frequently given to nursing home residents with dementia in spite of the Federal Drug Administration’s warnings that such drugs can kill people with dementia. The most commonly used are Risperdal, Seroquel, Zyprexa, and Haldol.
  • Anti-anxiety drugs: Often prescribed to nursing home residents for unapproved uses, they have serious side effects. Often Ativan and Valium and used.
  • Anti-depressants: The can have numerous negative side-effects, including increasing the resident’s risk of a fall. Among this group are Zoloft and Prozac.
  • Sedatives/hypnotics: Often Halcion and Restoril are given to residents.

Psychoactive drugs are linked to falls, memory loss and impairment, psychomotor slowing, and delirium. Nursing home residents suffering from dementia are particularly victims of chemical restraints.

The researchers in the OIG study reported that 88% of the time, psychoactive drugs were prescribed to elderly people with dementia. Yet the FDA puts its most serious warning, the “black box warning” on these drugs, clearly saying these drugs are deadly to dementia patients.

The drugs also have a history of extensive negative side effects in older adults. This combined with the fact that seniors metabolize drugs differently than younger people and are often on a number of different medications, can lead to a deadly cocktail of, if not death, at least zombieism.

If the nursing home insists on using chemical restraints to subdue your loved one, contact your local long-term care ombudsman. They may be able to help you resolve issues about care and your loved one's rights.

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform offers a wonderful, free, downloadable guide, “Toxic Medicine: What You Should Know to Fight the Misuse of Psychoactive Drugs in California Nursing Homes.”

If the worse happens, and if your loved one suffers a serious personal injury or a wrongful death, contact Garcia & Artigliere to learn about you and your loved one's legal options.


We offer free and confidential consultations. Call (800) 328-2630 Learn About Your Legal Options

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