What Are Chemical Restraints in a Nursing Home?

Abuse and Neglect, Nursing Home Abuse

If you had to make the difficult decision to place your aging parent or relative in a nursing home, you naturally want to make sure they receive the best care possible.

When looking at nursing homes, it’s important to know how carefully the facility monitors the use of chemical restraints, which is sometimes necessary, but it can be overused for the discipline or convenience of the facility rather than for the health of its residents.

By learning more about chemical restraints, you’ll better understand their inherent risks and the signs associated with their unnecessary usage. 

The dedicated legal team at the Hughey Law Firm in Charleston knows just how difficult these claims can be, and our experienced South Carolina nursing home abuse attorneys are here to help. Our dedicated legal team has the skill, knowledge, and compassion to help guide your claim toward just compensation.

Federal Law and Chemical Restraints

Chemical restraints refer to the use of any kind of drug to restrict a person’s ability to move freely or to exercise one’s freedom. Federal law dictates that residents of nursing homes mustn’t be hindered by chemical restraints that are implemented for reasons of either convenience or discipline.

Physical restraint medications must only be prescribed when they’re necessary for medical treatment. To be in accordance with federal law, chemical restraints must meet two highly specific circumstances:

  1. Such a restraint is necessary to ensure the resident’s or other residents’ safety
  2. A doctor’s written order is in place that clearly specifies the prescribed duration of restraint and the specific circumstances that qualify its usage.

Exceptions may be made, however, when an emergency precludes the reasonable obtainment of a written doctor’s order.

If your elderly loved one is the victim of an abusive physical or chemical restraint in a nursing home in South Carolina, you need experienced legal counsel. The elderly represent some of the most vulnerable members of society, and physical and chemical restraint abuses are especially egregious. 

What is Nursing Home Abuse?

What Are Chemical Restraints in a Nursing Home?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines Elder Abuse as a caregiver’s intentional action or intentional failure to act that causes an elderly adult (who is at least 60 years old) to be harmed or to be at risk of being harmed.

Unfortunately, nursing home abuse does happen, and the National Center on Elder Abuse forwards several important statistics:

  • A U.S. House of Representatives report found that almost one in three nursing homes in the two years prior to the report had been cited for violations of federal standards that either caused or could have caused residents to be harmed. Nearly one in 10 nursing homes during that time were cited for violations that caused harm, serious injuries, or life-threatening situations for residents.
  • A study of nursing home resident interviews revealed that 44 percent said they’d been abused and that 95 percent said they’d either been neglected or had witnessed another resident being neglected.
  • A study of nursing home staff members found that 50 percent admitted to mistreating a resident in the preceding year—usually in the form of neglect.

What Are Chemical Restraints?

Psychopharmacological drugs that affect a person’s behavior, thinking, mood, and sensations are most often used as chemical restraints in nursing homes. These antipsychotic drugs can rapidly sedate an agitated resident, but they also can have serious negative side effects:

  • Increased risk of falls due to unsteady gait;
  • Pronounced incoordination;
  • Increased agitation;
  • Memory loss;
  • Signs of withdrawal;
  • Decline in functioning; and
  • Extreme sedation.

If you notice the sudden onset of these symptoms in your aging relative, speak directly with the facility’s director and consult with an experienced nursing home abuse attorney. Chemical restraint use claims are complicated, but your loved one’s rights matter.


AARP reports that senior care facilities continue to administer antipsychotic drugs intended for mental illnesses to their residents (often to residents who suffer from dementia) to help minimize self-harming or disruptive behaviors, even though Medicare and Medicaid prohibit such usage as part of its nursing home reform. 

In fact, these medications are equipped with black box warnings, which state that they’re not intended for the elderly or for those with dementia. The consequences for not heeding this warning can be deadly.

Further, AARP shares the findings from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that these medications have no health benefits for those who suffer from dementia and that they increase the risk of falls, stroke, diabetes, heart attacks, and even death in this population. 

Ultimately, these drugs can leave previously active and alert residents lethargic and less able to manage their daily lives, including their ability to bathe themselves, feed themselves, ambulate freely, dress themselves, and interact in a socially meaningful way.

Your Chemical Restraint Claim

If you’re concerned that your aging loved one may have been subjected to dangerous chemical restraints, seek the guidance of an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer.

The elderly are extremely vulnerable to any abuse from their caregivers, and you should never disregard an indication of the use of physical or chemical restraints on elderly patients or residents. 

Because nursing home residents are elderly, their health is that much more precarious, and they’re more susceptible to a sudden decline in health—like the decline that chemical restraints can precipitate.

If Your Loved One Was Injured by Chemical Restraints, Consult with a Charleston Nursing Home Abuse Attorney

Nursing homes owe their residents a duty of care. If instead of providing an adequate level of care, the facility harms your loved one with unnecessary chemical restraints, it can be devastating.

The dedicated legal team at the Hughey Law Firm in Charleston, South Carolina, has the experience, commitment, and compassion to help guide your loved one’s claim toward rightful compensation.

Our skilled personal injury attorneys are here to help, so please contact an attorney online or call us at (843) 881-8644 today.