Chemical Restraints to Control the Elderly in Nursing Homes

by | Mar 28, 2011

A recent article from The American Lawyer Academy discusses the continued unethical and dangerous use of psychotropic drugs on seniors.  Rather than providing seniors with the care and compassion one would expect, such “care” often takes the form of strong psychiatric drugs — making life easier, not for the senior, but for their caretakers.


Old Couple

Elderly Couple**


Per Chemical Restraints to Control Seniors in Nursing Homes,January 27th 2011 by John Bisnar,


“If you put your beloved parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle into a nursing home, how would you feel if you found out that the nurses and doctors at the home tied them up to a bed or wheel chair? How outraged would you be if you knew that the people you’re paying to look after the well-being of your loved one were physically restraining them just so they would be ‘less of a bother?’ According to a recent report from the American Association for Justice entitled, ‘Standing Up for Seniors: How the Civil Justice System Protects Elderly Americans’, it turns out that what is happening in nursing homes with increasing frequency is not that far off. Instead of using ropes and chains though, nursing homes are using chemical restraints on seniors  — psychotropic drugs that sedate or control behaviors.


“According to the Standing Up For Seniors Report, the use of chemical restraints has been on the rise in the last few years. This is very disturbing to note. In addition to the injustice of getting the drug equivalent of chains and a muzzle, the consequences of chemical restraints are dangerous and even deadly for seniors. The use of antipsychotic medication for chemical restraining has been linked to problems like falling, confusion, delirium, hospitalizations, and even death.”


The weakened state of the elderly might alert one to the dangers of strong measures used to “treat” them.  Yet this practice required an FDA 2005 public health advisory warning that using these drugs on elderly dementia patients cause premature death.  FDA therefore demanded black box warnings* for a number of drugs being used on seniors.  This unethical practice, however, is still found to exist.  In the case of Robert Harris, in a California nursing home, it was part of the mix that led to his death. The American Lawyer Academy article further explains how:


“In one particularly tragic case, a dementia patient suffered the ultimate price for chemical restraining. The patient, Robert Harris, had been described as ‘lively’ and ‘energetic’ before he entered the nursing home. Those who knew him described him as a regular “grumpy old man.” His grumpiness was evidently too much of a bother for the nursing home staff. The doctors categorized him as psychotic and needing to be ‘chemically restrained.’ The nursing home placed Harris on two strong antipsychotics which caused him to become “an involuntary catatonic prisoner.” He stopped eating and drinking normally and lost 10% of his body mass within a month. The drugs made him go from being active and talkative to drowsy and confused. The drugs made things ‘easy’ for the staff, but they killed Harris’ spirit. Eventually Harris developed incontinence and needed a catheter. The catheter was inserted incorrectly, punctured his urethra, and caused a massive infection which eventually killed him.”


Aging patients, unable to care for themselves physically, are often removed from their own homes, away from family and friends.  Out of their familiar, friendly environment, they naturally can become both upset and disoriented.  However, labeling their “demented” state of mind as psychotic and using heavy antipsychotic drugs is now the subject of scrutiny and continued investigation.  Anyone seeking care for aging parents or relatives should be alert for nursing homes resorting to such practices.


* Black Box Warnings by FormWeb


**Photo Credit: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos


1 Comment

  1. Rita Moran

    Great article and true! I sell in a lot of these senior facilities and I was talking to a man who had just moved his grandmother into a nursing home because she was falling a lot. He said that they put her in a wheel chair and gave her a lot of drugs. He said he felt terrible about it, but that if they didn’t drug her, she would try to get up and walk. I found this to be a cruel way to handle a woman who wants to get up and walk and be active. I was horrified to hear that this was their means of handling a person in her condition. Major investigations need to be conducted and this needs to stop. We need people who can give proper care because the elderly are being taken advantage of 100%. They fare only slightly better if they have money, but they are subject to having many of their prized possessions stolen right out of their rooms. So many horror stories about this that it just brings me to tears.


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