Unfortunately, we hear stories about nursing home abuse and neglect all the time. But if your parent lives in a nursing home, you need to know about a particular type of nursing home abuse that appears to be sweeping the country: chemical restraints.

Human Rights Watch conducted a nationwide study of nursing homes in which it discovered that up to 30% of them regularly dose their elderly patients with antipsychotic drugs for no other reason than to control them. Most of the affected patients suffered from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, two conditions for which doctors never prescribe antipsychotic drugs. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration bans such drugs for these patients, warning that they could cause death.

Nevertheless, the nursing homes admitted to using drugs such as the following to control their patients’ often obstreperous and combative behavior:

  • Haloperidol
  • Risperidone
  • Seroquel

Elder rights advocates immediately dubbed this inexcusable practice chemical restraints.

Lack of proper oversight

Technically, the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act protects your parent from this and other forms of nursing home abuse. The problem lies with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the agency that oversees this Act. It has a very poor history of doing its job.

For instance, the CMMS issued only 7,029 illegal drug administration citations to nursing homes nationwide during a recent four-year period. Not only that, it collected only 3% of the supposedly mandatory fines for these violations, claiming that the other 97% of patients suffered “no actual harm” from being illegally dosed with antipsychotic drugs.

Your best interests, and those of your parent, dictate that you take a very proactive approach when it comes to monitoring the medicines that (s)he receives at the nursing home. Do not hesitate to speak directly with his or her physician, the aides who care for him or her every day, and, if need be, the nursing home administrator. You need to know what drugs your parent receives and why (s)he receives them.