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is the use of chemical restraints a form of nursing home abuse?

is the use of chemical restraints a form of nursing home abuse?
Axelrod & Associates, P.A.

It is not uncommon for elderly nursing home residents to require restraints to prevent injury. Whether this is to prevent them from falling out of bed, tipping out of a wheelchair or losing balance while sitting, nursing home staff members use restraints to keep residents safe. Unfortunately, staff members can also use restraints in a punitive or inappropriate manner leading to physical and emotional harm.

While many people automatically assume physical restraints – such as bedrails, straps and wheelchair locks – are the most common methods used, the nursing home staff could elect to use chemical restraints to restrict an elderly resident’s freedom of movement.


Generally speaking, chemical restraints are psychotropic drugs. This means they are designed to impact cognition and will hinder an individual’s ability to think and act freely. These drugs are often used to keep a patient docile by limiting restlessness, slowing the pace of movement and reducing instances of uncooperative behavior. Unfortunately, while this might seem like a sound protective strategy, a negligent or abusive staff could administer the chemicals for inappropriate reasons.

The use of chemical restraints can have a devastating psychology effect as well as potentially harmful drug interactions based on the numerous medications an elderly resident might already take on a regular basis.


Numerous factors can combine to result in dangerous situations for elderly nursing home residents. From a staff’s lack of training and low staffing levels to insidious goals and inappropriate usage, the use of chemical restraints can be truly harmful.

Outside a visible physical reaction to an adverse drug interaction – tremors, vomiting, fainting, etc. – an elderly nursing home resident can suffer psychological harm. The emotional impact of chemical restraints can include anxiety, depression, fear and remorse. The resident often suffers feelings of abandonment and the terror of being mentally awake but physically unable to move.

With an elderly loved one in the care of a nursing home staff, it is wise to be aware of the potential of emotional trauma. Your loved one might not have the ability to put their fears into words but might exhibit the signs of psychological harm. Do not hesitate to report any strange activity or personality changes as soon as they become apparent.

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