Nursing homes across the United States routinely give antipsychotic drugs to residents with dementia to control their behavior, despite regulatory prohibitions on this misuse of drugs as “chemical restraints,” Human Rights Watch said in a report and video released today. This abusive practice remains widespread even though the use of antipsychotics is associated with a nearly doubled risk of death in older people with dementia.
The 110-page report, “‘They Want Docile’: How Nursing Homes in the United States Overmedicate People with Dementia,” estimates that every week in US nursing facilities, more than 179,000 people, mostly older and living with dementia, are given antipsychotic drugs without a diagnosis for which their use is approved. Often, nursing facilities use these drugs without obtaining or even seeking informed consent. Using antipsychotic medications as a “chemical restraint”—for the convenience of staff or to discipline residents— violates federal regulations and may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under international human rights law.