Chemical Restraints in Nursing Homes Contribute to Unexpected Deaths

What are Chemical Restraints in Nursing Homes & Assisted Living?

At least 21% of nursing home residents are on antipsychotic drugs, often as a result of being falsely diagnosed with severe mental health disorders, according to a New York Times investigation.

Nursing home residents are misdiagnosed and given antipsychotics as a way for understaffed nursing homes to manage their residents by subduing them. This practice of chemical restraints is unacceptable and is a type of abuse, just like inappropriate physical restraints.

These drugs can have life-threatening side effects, especially for older people with dementia, nearly doubling their risk of death from various complications.

If a loved one is being harmed by drugging or misdiagnosis, a nursing home neglect attorney can help guide you to quickly report the abuse and obtain compensation for the costs involved so that you can find proper care.

A Tragic Example of Fatal Overmedication

A tragic example of the price victims and their families have to pay includes a 63-year-old resident with severe dementia who was falsely diagnosed with a rare mental health condition that he had no history of.

He was prescribed a potent antipsychotic sedative. Eight months after admission, after severe weight loss, pneumonia, and round-the-clock sedation that necessitated the amputation of a foot due to severe bedsores, Mr. Blakeney died.

His medical records later revealed was added to keep him sedated.

Misdiagnosis and drugging problems in nursing homes

Finding A Loophole

The federal government began publicly disclosing the use of antipsychotic drugs by nursing homes in 2012. Instead of eliminating this practice of subduing patients, nursing homes got creative.

One strategy to continue this abusive practice was to diagnose mental health disorders in healthy residents so that they could avoid directly reporting how often they gave antipsychotics.

For example, the percentage of residents diagnosed with one mental illness, which only occurs in about 1 in 150 people, and is usually decreased in younger adults, increased by 70% to 1 in 40 residents at nursing homes. The discrepancy indicates a widespread practice of false diagnosis to avoid reporting the use of antipsychotic drugs.

A Long History of Dangerous Drugging in Elderly Care

The use of antipsychotic drugs to manage dementia patients is not new. Since the 1980s when antipsychotic drugs were found to make older people more likely to fall and were linked to heart problems in people with dementia.

In 2005, the FDA required a warning that these drugs increased the risk of death for people with dementia. However, despite these warnings, their use persisted, especially in nursing homes with understaffed facilities.

Covering For Their Short-Staffing

When staffing dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of antipsychotic drugs increased.

Nursing homes that are understaffed and underfunded often resort to antipsychotic drugs to manage patients instead of providing the necessary intensive, specialized care that residents require, especially when they have dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Research has shown a correlation between poor staffing and high rates of antipsychotic drug use in nursing homes. However, the misuse of antipsychotics isn’t limited to low-rated nursing homes. Reports demonstrate that highly-rated homes have significantly understated their antipsychotic usage rates.

Lack of Oversight and Accountability

Inspections and audits of nursing homes have revealed thousands of instances where antipsychotic medications were misused. Still, in more than 99% of the cases, inspectors concluded that the violations only represented “potential,” not “actual,” harm to patients. As a result, these findings rarely impact a home’s star rating, an evaluation system designed by Medicare to help patients and their families choose facilities.

Investigations show the unsettling practice of overmedicating nursing home residents with antipsychotic drugs, often under false diagnoses, is likely to continue. Despite efforts to stop this abuse, the industry seems to continue to shift to other unreported medications, making a system to exploit rather than to care for our elders.