Physical or Chemical Restraints in Nursing Homes

old man in hospital bed with railingWhile there can be legitimate reasons for nursing home staffers to physically or chemically restrain residents, there is potential for abuse. For example, restraints could help prevent a resident from falling out of bed or out of a wheelchair. However, an overworked, stressed-out staff member may strap a resident to a wheelchair as a punishment or to isolate him or her from other residents. The staff member may strap the resident down so tightly it causes bruising or other injuries.

At PKSD New Mexico, our nursing home injury lawyers in New Mexico know the dangers of physical and chemical restraints. We have many years of experience recovering compensation for victims of various forms of nursing home abuse and neglect.

If you suspect your loved one was injured by physical or chemical restraints, we may be able to assist you with taking legal action. We take nursing home cases on contingency, which means no upfront costs.

Your initial consultation is free. Call to learn more: 505-677-7777.

What Are Physical Restraints in a Nursing Home?

A physical restraint is a device meant to restrict a nursing home resident’s movement. Staff members can use these restraints to prevent residents from harming others or themselves. However, using restraints is often discouraged because it could cause lasting physical or psychological harm.

Some common examples of physical restraints in nursing homes include:

  • Railings on beds to prevent residents from falling off the bed
  • Straps to secure a resident to a chair or wheelchair, helping prevent falls
  • Alarms on chairs or beds to alert staffers if residents attempt to get up on their own
  • Mittens to prevent residents from scratching themselves or grabbing medical devices
  • Vests or ties to secure a resident to a chair or bed
  • Reclining chairs with trays attached to prevent residents from getting up

What Are Chemical Restraints?

Chemical restraints are certain types of psychoactive drugs that can calm residents and prevent restlessness or excessive enthusiasm. These drugs are not used to treat medical symptoms but rather to make it easier to manage or deal with unruly or difficult individuals, especially residents who may be violent.

The following drugs typically qualify as chemical restraints:

  • Antipsychotics: These are medications used to treat psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder by altering brain neurotransmitters. They may be administered to reduce or control symptoms like hallucinations and delusions.
  • Sedatives: These drugs slow brain activity. They are used to help relax, sedate or promote sleep. They are commonly prescribed for anxiety and insomnia.
  • Anti-anxiety medication: These are drugs designed to alleviate symptoms of anxiety by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain, promoting relaxation and reducing tension. They are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. Some examples may include Klonopin, Xanax, Valium and Restoril.

While there can be valid reasons for using chemical restraints, the decision on whether to use chemical restraints should only be made by trained medical professionals. Unfortunately, chemical restraints are often used when there is understaffing or lack of appropriate training.

The Negative Impact of Physical and Chemical Restraints

Physical restraints can cause serious injuries to nursing home residents, such as:

  • Severe bruising, such as to the wrists and ankles
  • Pressure sores/bed sores
  • Constipation or incontinence
  • Loss of physical strength due to lack of physical activity
  • Needing more assistance with daily activities due to lower physical activity levels
  • Malnutrition
  • Respiratory issues
  • Less cardiovascular endurance
  • Psychological issues, such as depression, loneliness or anxiety

Some of these injuries are caused by the way residents are physically restrained, such as by the restraints being tied too tightly. These injuries could also be caused by a resident being physically restrained too often.

The use of chemical restraints can also cause serious injuries and many other adverse effects. Some of these effects include:

  • Decreased cognitive function, such as memory lapses, poor judgment and slowed reaction times
  • Physical dependence may develop with prolonged use of chemical restraints, leading to withdrawal symptoms when usage is reduced or stopped
  • Increased risk of falls and injuries
  • Psychological harm, such as depression or social withdrawal

The negative consequences of physical or chemical restraints can degrade residents’ quality of life. Misuse of these types of restraints also violates residents’ legal rights.

It is crucial for loved ones to recognize signs that a resident might be chemically restrained, which can often be subtle or mistaken for natural changes due to aging.

Your Loved One’s Rights Related to Physical or Chemical Restraints

Under federal law, nursing home residents have specific rights. These rights include the right to be free from physical or chemical restraints for the mere purpose of discipline or convenience. The law mandates that any form of restraint must be prescribed by a physician and justified for treating the resident’s medical symptoms.

Residents and their families have the right to consent to or refuse these treatments. Moreover, they are entitled to be informed about the potential risks and benefits of chemical restraints.

If you have reason to believe your loved one’s rights were violated, PKSD may be able to pursue legal action to hold the facility accountable.

Preventing Abuse of Chemical or Physical Restraints

Family members play a crucial role in preventing the misuse of chemical restraints or physical restraints. Here are several proactive steps you can take to help prevent abuse by nursing home staff members:

  • Stay Informed and Involved: Regularly visit and check on your loved one’s well-being and ask management for updates on their care plan and any changes in medication.
  • Educate Yourself About Medications: Learn about the medications prescribed to your loved one, including their uses and potential side effects, and understand why each medication is being used.
  • Communicate Regularly with Healthcare Providers: Build a relationship with nursing home staff and healthcare providers and discuss any concerns you may have about medications or changes in your loved one’s behavior.
  • Advocate for Non-Pharmacological Interventions: Request that non-drug approaches be tried first to manage your loved one’s behavioral issues.
  • Review Medication Administration Records: Ask to see records of when medications are administered to your loved one and in what dosage. Make sure chemical restraints are not the first go-to method for controlling behavior.
  • Seek External Support When Necessary: Consider consulting with a geriatric care manager or patient advocate if you still have concerns. Report to local authorities or elder abuse hotlines any suspicions you may have of abuse.

If you suspect nursing home neglect or abuse, you should strongly consider contacting an experienced lawyer to review the situation. Taking legal action may allow you to hold the facility accountable for mistreating your loved one and secure compensation for medical costs and other damages.

Call PKSD New Mexico Today to Discuss Your Case

At PKSD New Mexico, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of nursing home residents.

If you suspect abuse, including the misuse of chemical or physical restraints, we have the resources and legal knowledge to assist you. Our experienced team has recovered millions in compensation for our clients.

Call us to learn more about your legal options: 505-677-7777.

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