Protecting Our Seniors – Chemical Restraints Are Illegal

Chemical restraints are drugs that are given in nursing homes (skilled nursing facilities) for improper purposes – for example, to make a senior’s behavior more “manageable” and for staff convenience.  Sadly, although against the law – chemical restraints are widely used.  According to professionals who oversee the health and safety of nursing home residents, misuse of chemical restraints can permanently damage the cognition of seniors.  A senior who lived independently and who is subject to chemical restraints at a nursing home may suffer permanent damage.

Both Federal and State laws are in place that prohibit the use of chemical restraints.  Seniors at nursing homes should not be put on medications solely to sedate them.  While there are some circumstances where sedatives may be medically necessary, families with loved ones in nursing homes should be on the lookout for the improper use of sedatives. 

There are many reasons why a senior may display signs of aggression in a nursing home.  Aggression does not mean the senior is a bad person or that they have an aggressive personality.  It does not mean that they are any less deserving of protection against abuse and neglect.

Aggression may occur when an elder has a urinary tract infection (UTI) or pneumonia or Alzheimer's disease.  When seniors are medicated because staff doesn’t want to deal with difficult behavior it can mask a life threatening medical condition. 

In the State of California we have strong statutory protections against physical and financial elder abuse (the Elder Abuse Act, or EADACPA).  The use of chemical restraints is one of the definitions of “abuse” under the law:

"Physical abuse" means any of the following:

(a)  Assault, as defined in Section 240 of the Penal Code.

(f)  Use of a physical or chemical restraint or psychotropic medication under any of the following conditions:

(1)  For punishment.

(2)  For a period beyond that for which the medication was ordered pursuant to the instructions of a physician and surgeon licensed in the State of California, who is providing medical care to the elder or dependent adult at the time the instructions are given.

(3)  For any purpose not authorized by the physician and surgeon.

(Welf. & Inst. Code, § 15610.63)

If you have a family member who you think is being abused or neglected – or if you are employed by a company that you think is engaging in illegal practices, contact us for a confidential case evaluation.  Anne Marie Murphy,; (650) 697-6000. 

Our firm, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP ( ) has a long history of combatting elder abuse by representing senior citizens, their families, and whistleblowers.