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Is your parent being chemically restrained in the nursing home?

If your parent is an elderly New Yorker living in a nursing home, you probably worry that the caregivers there are not giving him or her the level of care (s)he needs. Unfortunately, per the results of a Human Rights Watch investigation, you may have more cause for concern than you realize.

HRW’s investigation of 15,000 nursing homes across the country reveals that in many of them, the staff routinely gives antipsychotic drugs to patients suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that make them sometimes difficult to handle. The most popular antipsychotics include Risperidone, Seroquel and Haloperidol, all of which are contra-indicated for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and/or dementia.

A high percentage of these patients have never received a physician’s diagnosis of the types of illnesses that require antipsychotic drugs. In addition, neither the vast majority of these patients nor their families knew that they are receiving these drugs. Elder rights advocates call this nursing home practice “chemical restraint” and allege that nursing homes do it for no reason other than to control their sometimes obstreperous and uncooperative patients.

Poor governmental oversight

The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 gives your parent numerous protections against such abuse. Unfortunately, however, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the agency charged with overseeing the NHRA’s provisions, appears not to take its job very seriously. For example, the CMMS issued a mere 7,039 citations for unauthorized drug administration between 2014 and 2017. Worse yet, it collected the supposedly mandated fines in only three percent of these cases. Why? Because it decreed that the other patients suffered “no actual harm.”

Another example of CMMS’s lackadaisical enforcement policies has to do with the Federal Drug Administration. The FDA specifically prohibits the prescribing of antipsychotic drugs for people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Nevertheless, several years ago the CMMS chose to impose a moratorium on these prohibitions that it has never since lifted.

With little governmental interference with nursing home drug administration, this forces you to become your parent’s advocate when it comes to the drugs (s)he receives, especially if his or her mental condition makes it likely that (s)he herself has no idea what medicines the nursing home staff give him or her.

You should discuss your parent’s medications with his or her physician. Nor should you hesitate to question your parent’s caregivers and their supervisors about his or her medication regimen. If no one answers your questions satisfactorily and you fear that your parent has become a chemical restraint victim, your best strategy may be to contact an elder rights attorney.

This is educational information not intended to provide legal advice.

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