elder care

Treating Dementia Patients without Chemical Restraints

Dementia is one of the most difficult ailments to deal with, for everyone involved. The patient goes through a long, tough process of losing memories and self-reliance in which there is no real cure. In addition to being very difficult for the patient, the family of the person with dementia has to observe the process, feeling helpless. Lastly, it is a very tough condition to manage for hospitals and caregivers, dementia is inherently disruptive and causes much confusion and leads to outbursts and disruptive behavior.

These behaviors have led to some pretty disturbing actions implemented by nurses and other hospital staff. It has become a problem that hospital staff use chemical restraints, or sedative anti-psychotic drugs, to quiet the patient, put them to sleep, and control their behavior. A specialist in medical negligence claims has been consulted for this article, and will help explain how to create a chemical restraint-free environment as well as how to proceed when the efforts to avoid them have been unsuccessful. While treating dementia patients is difficult, using chemical restraints should be the last option, a worst case scenario that is only used in times of emergency.


Dementia is a disease that degrades parts of the brain slowly. The patient goes through a lot during this process. They lose communication skills and memories. They may feel uncomfortable and no longer have the ability to perform tasks. Incapable of understanding the environment they are in, the people get depressed because of all this. These factors not only make a person disruptive for no discernable reason, it creates a situation that makes it easy for nurses and other staff to solve the solution with chemical restraints. However, this is not a solution without consequences.

Negative Impacts

Not surprisingly, research has shown that this is not good for the patients who are already confused, frightened by the hospital environment, and acting out because of these factors. Often the staff at the location use anti-psychotic drugs to calm them down, which isn't what these patients need to be treated with. When a person who has no use for anti-psychotic drugs, it does not help their mental state. This does more harm than good, a dementia patient's mental chemistry is very fragile.

Staff treating these patients seem to have a negative outlook on the issue. Dementia is incurable, and they perceive that calming the patient and creating a quiet space for themselves and the other patients is worth doing so against their will. Yet creating a less independent dementia patient is not treating them, it is simply making the situation easier for the staff. The use of chemical restraints exacerbates the patient's symptoms, and can accelerate the disease. Not only is using chemical restraints bad for the patients, it is immoral.

Creating Restraint-Free Environments

To create restraint-free environments, a few things need to be done. For the family of dementia patients, it is key that they are present to ensure that chemical restraints are not being used on their loved one. Staff have even noted that they use chemical restraints to calm patients because the family isn't around to help provide insight into what is happening. The family can't be there at all times, but it significantly helps the situation to know what is going on. A family member may notice that their relative may be sedated, quiet, and out of it. This can help prevent the use of chemical restraints in the future by bringing up the issue or moving the relative to a different facility.

However, training staff is the most important aspect of creating a restraint-free environment. Communication is key in thoughtful ways to deal with difficult behaviours. Providing an adequate treatment environment is the first step in treating disruptive patients. If a behaviour persists, it is best for staff to communicate with the family and their supervisors in order to find a proper solution. If, in the event of an emergency a chemical or physical restraint must be used, it should be for the shortest viable amount of time and treatment returned to the regular regimen as soon as possible. Research has shown that nurses, doctors, and other staff are not properly trained on specific communication skills for patients with dementia. It's absolutely crucial that this training is provided for anyone treating patients with dementia.

Creating a restraint-free environment is necessary to successful treat dementia until a real, lasting cure can be found. Until then, staff need to do what is best for their patients.

Article contributed by Juan Vittori - contains external pdf links