For many people, a major reason to look into nursing home care for a loved one is the increasing need for medical attention and support. A high-quality nursing home should have proper medical supervision and attention, ensuring correct and prompt diagnoses and consistent, appropriate treatment.
Unfortunately, according to a 2018 report from Human Rights Watch, many homes throughout the United States misuse psychotropic medications, thus putting residents at risk of serious injury and even death.
Medications for psychiatric conditions can be effective and appropriate treatments for patients actually suffering from these conditions. However, in many cases, nursing home staff use these medications for their sedative effects.
Common scenarios for use of chemical restraints
Nursing home residents may suffer from a variety of conditions such as dementia that can make it difficult for staff to deal with them. Rather than handle these issues appropriately, staff members often resort to chemical restraints by giving the residents antipsychotic drugs. These drugs can have serious side effects and present a large health risk. Frequently, staff members administer them without a proper diagnosis and without informed consent. These drugs present an especially high risk for people suffering from dementia.
What nursing homes should be doing instead
Researchers generally recommend nonpharmacological approaches to treat behavioral issues in dementia patients. Techniques may include assessing environmental triggers and making changes or redirecting problematic behavior. If these techniques do not suffice, doctors may consider medications such as antidepressants. In some cases, the antipsychotic drug may truly be an appropriate option; however, such a determination requires a proper assessment and diagnostic process.
Why improper chemical restraints are so common
Nursing homes where staff members are shorthanded, overworked and poorly trained are more likely to resort to risky chemical restraints in place of individualized care and attention. It is easier to give a problematic resident a dose certain to sedate rather than go through the appropriate process to figure out the root of the problem and how to best deal with it for the benefit of the patient.
Giving a patient inappropriate medication that puts his or her life at risk may count as medical malpractice. If you become aware your loved one is receiving drugs that may be affecting his or her well-being, it is important to dig further and take appropriate action.